Donald Trump Jr.'s tweet comparing refugees to a bowl of Skittles to make a point about the supposed threat of terrorists entering the country has a lot of layers of ridiculous to it. For one, people fleeing their homes due to violence probably shouldn't be compared to pieces of candy. Moreover, perhaps a bright and shiny bowl of Skittles isn't the best way to advance a serious conversation about terrorism. But a twist in the story came as the man who took the photograph that was used in Trump Jr.'s tweet came forward. The Skittles photographer is a refugee, and he is not at all pleased that his photo was used without his permission to convey a political message with which he strongly disagrees.
The tweet in question features the caption: "If I had a bowl of skittles and I told you just three would kill you, would you take a handful? That's our Syrian refugee problem." It's certainly not a message that sits well with David Kittos, who posted the photograph used in the tweet to Flickr in 2010. Kittos told the BBC he is a refugee: "In 1974, when I was six years old, I was a refugee from the Turkish occupation of Cyprus so I would never approve the use of this image against refugees."
Kittos, who currently resides in the United Kingdom, recounted to the BBC how his family "had to leave everything behind overnight. Our property and our possessions."
Kittos' experience is alarmingly common today, with 65.3 million forcibly displaced people around the world, according to the United Nations Refugee Agency. Trump Jr.'s tweet, and the uproar it created, coincided with a United Nations meeting on Monday that established 2018 as the year by which a new strategy would be devised for dealing with the migrant crisis, as well as a U.S.-led summit Tuesday to encourage nations to take in more refugees and to increase work and education opportunities for these individuals.
Those two events offer stark reminders (not that they should be needed) that refugees are people, not pieces of candy. They are people like Kittos, with stories and histories and dignity and more than their fair share of struggles. In response to the Trump Jr. tweet, spokeswoman for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees Melissa Fleming wrote, "Syrian refugees are fellow human beings who have left their country to escape war and terrorism. Depictions like these are dehumanizing, demeaning and dangerous," in an email to the New York Times.
And that's a message Kittos could probably get behind. Unfortunately, fear has taken over the conversation about refugee admittance to the United States, allowing for the kind of discourse that compares human beings to interchangeable objects and prevents some from grappling with the tragic reality these men, women, and children face, or with questions about our responsibility to contribute to a solution.