A week ago, I published a post called “Do something” urging readers to not be passive in the shadow of modern refugeeism—a phenomenon that has displaced nearly 70 million people worldwide. To put it plainly, everyone can do something to contribute to solutions.
Perhaps the most common sentiment I hear regarding the refugee crisis is I want to help, but I don’t know how. It’s a fair feeling. We often think we’re too distant or too inadequate for such a huge problem. I want to say that we may be too distant and too inadequate to solve this problem, but we are not too distant or too inadequate to make a difference. For one child. For one man. For one woman. For a family.
Here are 25 ways you—by yourself, or with your friends or office or small group—can support refugees.
- Educate yourself and your friends and family about prejudice against refugees. That means reading books, articles, and blogs. It means listening to refugees, politicians, journalists, and aid workers who have unique insights. This education will then inform decisions on how to help refugees in your community, how to talk about the issues, and how to push for policy change.
- Sign petitions. You can sign petitions calling for the US to accept more Syrian refugees here and here. Sign the #WithRefugees petition directed at the United Nations here. Or a petition aimed at President Obama from the International Rescue Committee here.
- Give to an NGO. You can give money. Or you can contribute relief items (hygiene products, blankets, clothing, basic needs items, shoes—shoes are always in high demand—school supplies, and more). The list of NGOs is practically endless. But, for starters, there’s Mennonite Central Committee, World Relief, MercyCorps, Medair, World Renew, Bethany Christian Services, Oxfam, International Rescue Mission, World Vision, Heartland Alliance, and a slew of UN agencies.
- Give to a specific humanitarian aid worker or missionary in a relevant field. If you know someone who is working with refugees, at home or abroad, they almost certainly need support. We can’t all go, but we can all give. So do it.
- Pray. As Christians, this is our first duty. It’s God who saves people, not us. We only do our part as far as we are able. So pray for refugees. Pray for workers who help them. Pray for communities who accept them. Pray for the fighters who made them refugees in the first place. Pray for our politicians who make decisions concerning their futures. And pray for peace across our world.
- Raise your awareness about a specific refugee community. Did you know that California, Michigan, and Illinois have significant populations of Syrian refugees? Or that Pennsylvania has taken in the most Bhutanese refugees? Or that there’s a thriving Somali refugee population in Minnesota? Did you know that between 2011 and 2013, Iraq supplied the highest number of refugees to the United States (almost 20,000), followed by Burma (16,000), Bhutan (9,000), Somalia (7,500), and Cuba (4,200)? Refugees are all around us. Don’t be afraid to research cultural differences and historical realities, and don’t be afraid to visit communities that may seem strange.
- Visit a local refugee family. Refugees are often afraid to venture out of their homes once they’ve come to a strange and foreign land. Cultural differences, shame, and concerns over inadequacy sometimes prevent refugees from engaging in their new communities. As such, it’s vital for Americans to initiate such engagement. Contact your church leadership, local NGOs, or first-generation immigrant/refugee friends to connect with refugee communities.
- Make and distribute leaflets. We need look no further than our television screens to see the severity and pervasiveness of prejudice against and fear of refugees. Put together facts, figures, and personal stories that tell the truth about refugees and make that information for others who won’t seek it out themselves.
- Send an email to congress. You can sign onto a free petition that will automatically email Capitol Hill, requesting that the nation accept more Syrian refugees, here. You can do the same for child refugees stuck on our borders here.
- Call a senator. Whether we like it or not, politicians make decisions that have a direct impact on the status of refugees in this country, their acceptance into this country, and their opportunities once they’ve arrived. Here at Senate.gov, you can find the contact information for your senator. Tell him or her about refugee needs in your community, what’s going well, and what needs to change.
- Trauma healing work. This requires special training, but if you have the psychological and spiritual strength, getting involved in trauma healing for refugees is hugely necessary and hugely rewarding. Such networks exist wherever there are significant refugee populations. And, even if you can’t commit to the training and the work of trauma care, you can always lend a listening ear to refugees.
- Take an offering. Encourage your church to take a special offering for refugee relief, or to dedicate funds to that ministry. Jesus said whatever we do for the least of the brothers, we do for him.
- Resettlement sponsorship. At this point, embarrassingly, the United States does not allow the private sponsorship of refugees. Canada does—and it was a massive success, with more sponsoring groups than there were Syrian refugees the country was willing to accept. Petition the US government to imitate Canada’s private personal and group-sponsorship practices. And then be ready to sponsor a family with your neighbors, with your apartment, with your office, with your small group, or with your church. And even if the US never permits private sponsorship, you can connect with “Groups of Five” in Canada to assist them in their sponsorships.
- Give local refugees food, household goods, assistance around town, and a big welcome. When refugees are resettled in the United States, they are typically given basic assistance—housing, essential needs, and language training—but they require much more. We can offer them all the items that make a house a home. We can offer them transportation. We can offer them babysitting. We can offer them material comforts. And we can offer them friendship.
- Send church officials into refugee communities abroad, or put them in touch with people who are already there. There’s no experience like first-hand experience. Pastors, politicians, and community members can read as much as they want, but their perspectives are nearly always more nuanced, enlightened, and empathetic when they visit a place personally. If you are interested in your church or community helping refugees, but need to convince the decision-makers, it is worth it to send the decision-makers to Beirut or Nairobi, the Mexican border or Bhutan, or just the apartment complex in your town where refugees have been resettled, to see with their own eyes the needs of refugees and the opportunities to assist them. And if the decision-makers themselves can’t or refuse to go, send other influencers and activists who can lobby for the cause of refugees back home.
- Support refugee offices in the field. We all know there are resettlement offices and NGOs operating here in the United States. We should support these. But we need just as much to support field offices, whether they be in the form of NGO foreign branches, the United Nations High Commissioner on Refugees, or churches with connections overseas.
- Participate in a Run/Walk for refugees. There are countless 5k and 10k races supporting any number of worthy causes. Relief and resettlement for refugees is one of those causes. Find a race near you and sign up. (For those in the Chicago area, there’s a Run/Walk for Refugees 3k in Long Grove on September 10.)
- Volunteer overseas. Obviously this requires some real commitment. It’s not just getting off the couch; it’s getting out of the country. But with nearly 70 million refugees in the world right now, there is no shortage of demand for health, education, distribution, psychosocial, and engineering professionals. If you have the skills, the heart, and the call, open yourself to the possibility of taking them to a place where they will be powerfully used.
- Volunteer at home. Likewise, resettlement agencies are in a general prolonged state of being swamped. They need good, willing people to transport, talk with, train, and teach refugees. Contact churches, food kitchens, resettlement agencies, or local government to get involved.
- Assist churches and NGOs in countries that are under-resourced to handle refugees. Most North American and large European countries feel the weight of refugeeism, but they are also the most equipped to deal with the issue. It’s smaller, poorer countries—usually the countries that actually take in the most refugees—that need the most assistance. Consider sending money, supplies, or encouraging letters to church and humanitarian workers in these hugely underserved communities, especially in Southeast Asia, the Middle East, and Africa.
- Seek support for Christian presence in conflict zones. Pertaining to refugee-creating conflict in the Middle East today, everyone is suffering, but Christians are often targeted—or at least feel targeted—for their faith. If we believe that Christianity has a place in the Middle East, we must strengthen it there. That means supporting churches and church bodies (e.g. Middle East Council of Churches, Fellowship of Middle East Evangelical Churches, and the World Council of Churches) in the Middle East so that Christians have alternatives to fleeing the place where our common faith was born.
- Seek support for peacebuilding initiatives abroad. While refugees become refugees for a number of reasons—violence, persecution, natural disaster, or economic crisis—war is definitely one of the main reasons. So to stem the flow of refugees, we need to stem the outbreak of war. As such, contribute to peacebuilding bodies in faraway battlefields. Also, write to your politicians to end the ceaseless flow of arms from the United States into foreign combat zones.
- Push for refugee resettlement reform. Right now, it takes approximately two years for refugees to be accepted into the United States. This is too long. Of course the United States should maintain a coherent screening process, but we need to speed this process up. Two years is more than enough time to do the appropriate background, health, and security checks, and it’s more than enough time for desperation, PTSD, malnutrition, lack of education, unemployment, and slow death to happen to refugees. We can do better.
- Tutor refugees. When refugee children come into the United States, many of them don’t know English, and many have been deprived of adequate education after months or, more probably, year in underdeveloped communities or in refugee camps. Sign up to tutor refugee children in English, math, science, or whatever they need. In terms of development, refugees have already fallen behind the rest of the world simply because they’re refugees; they shouldn’t have to fall behind in education too.
- Seek justice for refugees. Raise awareness in your communities and pressure your politicians to normalize the right of return for refugees. Help them get justice in terms of equal treatment wherever they are, and equal access to education and healthcare, but also help them get justice more broadly. Oftentimes, governments and religious or ethnic groups have done wrong to refugees; we have the power to influence journalists, policymakers, church leaders, activists, and academics to shine lights on these injustices and make them right.