As thousands of refugees arrive on Europe’s shores and make the long and desperate trek to the European Union, their stories of suffering, violence, and trauma are finally being broadcast across the media. The recent image of a small Syrian toddler who had drowned trying to cross the Mediterranean and washed up on a Turkish shore has escalated outrage and compelled the need for action on behalf of these refugees. Many of us in Western Europe and the United States find ourselves asking: What can we do?
The following is a list of recommendations (alternate and more complete lists can be found on The Independent and Quartz, which we used as the bases for our list) although it is important for you to find which method and organization best reflects your commitment, level of concern, and desire to help. While the plight of refugees is not confined to those attempting to reach Europe, most of the organizations included in this list link to specific donation sites for Syrian assistance.
- USA for UNHCR: This is a non-profit organization which provides American support for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). UNHCR operates in 125 countries, serving over 36 million displaced peoples by providing “shelter, food, water, medical care, and other life-saving assistance to refugees around the world.” If you would rather donate directly to UNHCR, you can do so here.
- International Rescue Committee: The International Rescue Committee (IRC) is a humanitarian organization that operates in over 40 countries where emergency responses are currently needed with the goal of staying until services are no longer needed and development & assistance programs can take over. IRC also works to resettle refugees in the US. In regards to Syria, IRC is serving refugees in camps, facilities, and programs in Syria, Jordan, Lebanon, Iraq, Turkey, and Greece. IRC works to provide water, sanitation, health services, education, resettlement assistance, etc.
- Save the Children: This is an international non-profit organization which advocates on behalf of children throughout the world and provides direct services to those in need. They are involved in a range of services, including health, education, emergency response, child survival, and nutrition, in addition to providing on-the-ground information and reports on the situation of children in their service areas. It is also worth noting that this organization is also involved in child welfare efforts for kids in Kentucky and West Virginia (they are really phenomenal).
- UNICEF United States Fund: This is the US support for the UN’s Children’s Fund (UNICEF). They are on the ground in Syria and surrounding areas, providing immunizations, sanitary water access, education, security, trauma support, clothing, etc.
- International Federation of the Red Cross: This organization provides direct and indirect aid and services to those in dire humanitarian situations, and they have a big mission toward Syrian refugees and other migrants. IFRC supports various programs and assistance through local Red Cross and Red Crescent chapters, and they much of their current funding is being distributed to displaced persons in the Middle East and Europe.
- Migrant Offshore Aid Station: MOAS is a group of maritime experts, security professionals, medical staff, and volunteers who are committed to reducing the number of deaths at sea. It was founded in 2013 by an American and his Italian wife in response to 400 migrants who drowned off the coast of Italy that year. MOAS is involved in search and rescue for migrants and refugees in the Mediterranean Sea. It is the “first privately-funded mission to assist migrants at sea.”
- Doctors Without Borders: This organization provides medical staff, equipment, medicines, and materials to areas with great need. They have been on the frontline in the Middle East and Europe (in addition to numerous other humanitarian situations in the world), and they have advocated for additional support for these refugees, particularly in the way of trauma-informed care and services.
Support Grassroots Organizations and Networks
- Jillian Barthold: Portland, OR artist and graphic designer Jillian Barthold is donating 15% of her Etsy sales to UNICEF during the month of September.
- SidebySide: a family in the UK started a crowdfunding site to collect money for humanitarian aid for those in Calais.
- Tom McElholm: a student will be spending time volunteering in Calais for a few months, and he started a crowdfunding site to raise money for supplies
- Sawa for Development and Aid: Help meet the needs of Syrian refugees living in camps in Lebanon
- Talk about what is happening. Write articles, blog posts, and share them anyway you can (like my article on the use of sexual violence by ISIS, which causes people to flee). Generate concern among your social circle and advocate on behalf of those whose stories can’t be easily seen.
- Sign the petition for a safe zone for Syrian refugees on Avaaz. It is intended for major world leaders, including President Obama. It already has over 1 million signatures. You can also find and sign online petitions like this on Change.org.
- Urge your Congressional representatives to support funding for humanitarian assistance, nonprofit efforts, and UN funding: all congressional offices are tasked with responding to the concerns of their constituents. Call, email, or write your representative, and urge others to do the same. You can find your US Representative here and your US Senator here.
- On that same note, remember that your vote matters! With the upcoming presidential election, think twice about how candidates speak of refugees, how they classify those in need, and whether or not they use terms like “illegal” or “anchor baby”.
- Stay informed on the issue. Follow organizations and activists following the issue, and learn about what is going on in Syria and Iraq, in addition to refugee crises in other areas. Facebook and Twitter make it easy to keep up-to-date.
- Remember that language matters! Once you understand what many of these individuals are fleeing from, it seems inappropriate to call them “migrants”. It is also important to apply such understanding to our own immigration issue in the US.