The story of the world’s refugee crisis is told in huge numbers and in single stories.
The huge numbers: 60 million, the number of forcibly displaced people in the world today. That’s at the highest level ever (including World War II), according to the UN, and equates to 1 in every 122 humans on this planet. Over the last few years of civil war, Syrian refugees have made up the largest portion of the totals. On average last year, 42,500 Syrians desperately fled their homes every day–many attempting to make their way into Turkey and Greece and then further into Europe. About 350,000 migrants in total are estimated to have arrived at European borders since January alone, including other simmering crises, like the frequent drownings of refugees from Libya and the rest of Africa who attempt to sail to Italy.
The single story came from two searing images of a dead Syrian 3-year-old Aylan Kurdi, a refugee whose body washed onto the beach in Turkey after a raft piloted by smugglers capsized. His family was ultimately trying to reach Canada, where the father had relatives.
In the last few weeks, as the migrant crisis has become headline news, many have wondered how they can help the throngs of asylum-seekers fleeing into Europe. Here we’ve rounded up a number of ways that you can get involved and given examples of things other people have done to provide inspiration:
While millions of Syrian and Iraqi refugees crowd makeshift camps in Lebanon, Jordan and other neighboring countries in an already destabilized region, many Western nations are offering a paltry amount of assistance and asylum visas in comparison.
Facing massive influxes, Germany and Sweden are doing the most to open their doors in Europe. Germany says it can cope with 500,000 asylum seekers a year for several years. In comparison, the U.K. and France are only taking in about 22,000 in total over the next few years; Hungary has even put up a border fence. (The EU, calling for compassion, is now considering mandates to member countries to take in some.)
The United States isn’t better. It has only let in about 1,400 refugees from Syria and has a worldwide quota of 70,000–so few people that they could fit in medium-sized football stadium. (Though the U.S. has been the largest donor of humanitarian aid to Syria.) Some senators are calling for the U.S. to accept 65,000 Syrian refugees by 2016. Canada–which is where Kurdi’s family wanted to flee–took in a total of 23,000 refugees last year, only about 2,400 from Syria and is resisting calls to increase those numbers.
Everyday people with empathy in all of these countries are taking to the streets and online to lobby their national governments to do better. For example, when Iceland said it would only take 50 refugees, more than 15,000 people in the small country told the government they’d offer their own homes if the country would take more.
You can also hold a “Refugees Welcome” rally. People have marched in the United States, Canada, Turkey, Greece, Germany, and all over to push their government in the right direction and combat anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim sentiment that has become prominent in some countries with huge influxes of people. People have held pizza parties for refugees and, in Germany, a 22-year-old anti-Nazi song has topped the music charts again in order to welcome foreigners. If you happen to be in New York, there will be a rally at Union Square on Saturday, September 12.
A last way to act on government is to rally support more locally to increase pressure. City of Sanctuary is a movement that started in the UK that is spreading worldwide to create a network of towns with a “culture of hospitality” for people seeking sanctuary. Vancouver’s mayor recently decried Canada’s policies, Boston’s Mayor Marty Walsh has said his city would house refugees, and, in Barcelona and Madrid, local plans are being hatched to assist refugees directly. The Pope recently called on all Catholic parishes in Europe to take in refugees, too.
No matter where you are, monetary donations are desperately needed. The United Nations is calling for $8.5 billion to assist Syrian refugees alone in 2015, but less than one fourth of funding has been received and the World Food Program even had to cut food aid to refugees in Jordan–informing people by text message.
Several large, highly-rated international NGOs are doing excellent work on the ground, as are many more local organizations. Organizations on the smaller side include:
The Migrant Offshore Aid Station provides life-saving assistance to asylum-seekers attempting to cross the Mediterranean Sea into Europe. More than 20,000 people are estimated to have lost their life in the past 20 years making the crossing. The organization Migration Aid is helping refugees who have arrived in Hungary. The World Tribe of Calais is telling stories of people in migrant camps and raising funds to donate goods. You can also donate to Germany’s Airbnb for refugees, called Refugees Welcome, here. Finally, the Karam Foundation is an organization that works in Turkey and in Syria directly.
Larger NGOs doing good work and looking for donations include: the International Rescue Committee (it also allows you to setup your own fundraising page), Doctors Without Borders, Save the Children, UNICEF, Oxfam, and MercyCorps. The UN’s Refugee Agency itself has a mission to assist the 13 million refugees around the world and itself severely under-resourced (donate here).
And hey, if you’re a billionaire like Egypt’s Naguib Sawiris, you can always offer to just buy an entire island to house them yourself.
If you speak another language, you can contribute to the crowdsourced Refugee Phrasebook project, a guide for refugees who will need to use specific legal, medical, and other terminology in foreign languages.
In Europe, some volunteers have gone above and beyond to offer their assistance. Convoys of cars have formed to drive refugees from Budapest, where Hungary is holding people in prison-like camps, to the Austrian border. In Germany, there is the “Airbnb for refugees” site, where you can register your apartment to house someone in need of a room or offer to pay the rent for someone if you don’t have space. In the U.K., the organization Citizens UK is registering landlords willing to provide low-cost housing to resettle many more refugees. App developers in Dresden have created an app that directs new arrivals to resources locally and nationally that they might need.
You can also also drop-off various donations in Europe. Here’s a Google Map of spots mostly in the U.K. There are many crowdfunding campaigns started by individual humanitarians who have planned trips to Calais–the location of a massive migrant camp in northern France that houses many refugees who are increasingly desperate to enter the U.K.–where they want to drop off physical donations, including clothing, tents, shoes, and even books to set up a library. Here are some organizations working on the ground there, courtesy of the grassroots Facebook page, the Calais Solidarity Network.
These are just a few examples. There are many more opportunities to volunteer and get directly involved, especially if you’re in Europe. When it comes down to it, many people are showing compassion and empathy, even when their governments aren’t as much.