7 Ways to Help Refugees Today


Donald Trump just announced an executive order that would temporarily ban most refugees and withhold visas from all citizens of Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Iran, Libya, Somalia, and Sudan. This is a humanitarian tragedy. There are over 65.3 million forcibly displaced people in the world, and a majority are nationals of one of those six countries.

Those forcibly displaced people—whether they had a chance to settle in the U.S. before this ban or they're still in a refugee camp halfway around the world—still need our help.  Here’s what you can do in your own community, today.

1. Volunteer

The International Rescue Committee (IRC) and other refugee resettlement agencies rely on volunteers to complete their enormous numbers of responsibilities.

Resettlement agencies secure and prepare housing for incoming refugees; fill out applications to help refugees gain Social Security Numbers, health insurance, cash assistance, and identification cards; help refugees find private transportation and navigate public transportation; host cultural orientations, English classes, and job-readiness training; and help place refugees with local employers. Beyond the work itself, there are enormous amounts of paperwork required so that agencies can verify that they've properly served the refugees in their care and continue receiving federal funding. Case managers also take numerous meetings with their clients, discussing their problems in the U.S., helping them find solutions to those issues, and serving as a general mentor and contact.

Volunteers can help agencies with completing any of these tasks. Do some digging, find out about the agencies operating in your community, and reach out.

If you're super adventurous, there are also opportunities to volunteer with refugees abroad (and with this executive order, there will soon be fewer and fewer new refugees to resettle at home). Some of our favorites are StARS in Egypt and LEAP in Lebanon.

2. Intern or take an Americorps position

If you've volunteered before and are looking to step up your game with a meaningful position and job experience, particularly if you want to work with NGOs in the future, try interning or taking an Americorps position with a refugee resettlement agency. These positions require that you make a commitment to work a certain number of hours throughout the course of a year, and Americorps workers have enough time to work under a case worker, create their own mini-programs within their agency, and gain skills that will ultimately help them on the job market.

3. Include Refugees in the Local Community

One of the most difficult issues facing refugees when they move to the United States is the fact that they are torn between two cultures, and their new culture isn’t always open to them. In point of fact: Our president.

To combat this, ask local community organizations with whom you're already involved—your religious congregation, activist or political group, food bank, YMCA, Big Brothers/Big Sisters chapter—to host events that welcome refugees into the community.

There are lots of good examples of this in our own community of Tucson. We have organizations that host regular potlucks where members of both the refugee community and the organization bring foods from their respective communities to share. There are also people working to help refugees participate in local fairs, farmers markets, and church based-events so they can educate the public on their culture and sell their homemade products—many refugees have trade skills that they’ve brought with them to the United States, and they're just looking for ways to use those to support their families.

These kinds of activities have a twofold benefit: they introduce refugees to their new community, and they help neutralize any false narratives about refugees which might have previously been propagated in that community.

Find an organization in your own town that could begin hosting events like these, or volunteer for an existing program.

4. Employ refugees

If you own a business with positions that are skill-oriented, especially if employees don’t need to speak perfect English to succeed, consider employing refugees. Many refugees were professionals in their country of origin, but their credentials and education don't transfer here. Many others worked in skilled trades or unskilled labor. All of them need to find a job in the United States if they're to lead successful lives here. A full list of these organizations, organized by state, can be found here.

5. Donate to your refugee resettlement agencies’ local branches.

Local branches of refugee resettlement and placement have been inundated with high numbers of refugees but they have far from enough federal funding to address the many needs of refugees as they assimilate to the United States. When President Obama agreed to accept an additional 10,000 Syrian refugees last year, a 13% increase from 2016’s initial estimate, he did so without providing these agencies with an equivalent increase in funding. You can help with donations.

The best way to donate directly to a local center is to do so in person or by using the webpage that is specifically designated for your local branch as opposed to the main website for the organization.  Helpful items include clothing, certain kitchen supplies (especially microwaves), diapers, and bicycles.

6. Donate to assist refugees overseas

Most refugees who make it to the U.S. are forced to leave members of their family behind. Under normal circumstance, the United States has a process for eventual family reunification, but the current administration just largely ended that process with this executive order. As such, it is more imperative than ever that we donate to help these people survive. The conditions of refugees vary widely depending on the location of their camp and whether they're formally registered with the United Nations. In many cases, they have limited access to electricity, health care, and even food and clean water. In situations like that, every little bit helps.

The IRC operates outside of the U.S., so donations to their international efforts can be a good use of money. You can also donate to the UN's refugee efforts directly.

7. Politically oppose executive orders and other policies that hurt refugees

Last but not least, harm reduction is a valid strategy. We should absolutely donate to keep refugees fed in their foreign camps and volunteer to keep our refugee neighbors from feeling attacked. But none of that negates government policies that keep refugees in foreign camps and make our refugee neighbors feel attacked. Call your Members of Congress, write the President, and make a fuss.

This is not okay. None of this is okay.

Nelle spends most of her time wondering how to best live an ethical life. She has a master’s degree in Middle Eastern and North African Studies from the University of Arizona, and her idea of fun is a good ol’ fashioned political debate, preferably paired with bourbon.

Jacqui is a terrible dinner party guest—she only knows how to talk about politics and religion. On a typical Friday night, she can be found binge-watching her current Netflix show of choice, playing Civilization: The Board Game and drinking <$8 bottles of champagne.

Photo Credit: Andrew McLConnell/ Panos