We are in the midst of the worst refugee crisis since World War II. According to Amnesty International, more than 50 million people have been forcibly displaced from their homes. Since 2011, about 12 million Syrians have been displaced, four million outside the country. Since December 2013, more than three million Iraqis have been forced from their homes because of that country’s violent conflict.
Over the last several years, the Rohingya, a Muslim ethnic group living primarily in western Myanmar, have been fleeing systematic persecution. According to The New York Times, 25,000 boarded smugglers’ boats in the first quarter of this year, headed for countries like Indonesia and Malaysia. Recently, thousands of these refugees found themselves stranded at sea, after Indonesia and Malaysia refused to allow them in. Since the conflict in Ukraine broke out in late 2013, 1.3 million people have been displaced in that country, with hundreds of thousands feeling to Russia.
In South East Asia, in the first three months of 2015, 300 died at sea from starvation, dehydration, and abuse by boat crews, according to UNHCR. As reported by The New York Times, “[p]overty and war in places like Libya, South Sudan, Eritrea and Nigeria are driving migrants to make the perilous journey across the Mediterranean Sea.” According to Amnesty International, as of May 31, 2015, 1,865 people died while attempting to cross the Mediterranean sea. The International Organization of Migration estimates that by the end of 2015 alone some 30,000 people will have perished in the Mediterranean.
There are many organizations and groups providing aid and assistance to refugees around the world. And there are plenty of great resources on how you can help, which have been compiled by media outlets like The Independent, Reuters, and PRI. Without replicating those efforts, we’ve created our own list, focusing on groups that are small but doing incredibly important work dealing with the mass displacement of people from the Middle East, particularly Syria. We figure you already know the big groups, like UNHCR and the International Rescue Committee.
1. Help Save Refugees Drowning in the Mediterranean Sea
The Catrambone family in Malta has invested its own money to create a private refugee rescue operation, called the Migrant Offshore Aid Station (MOAS). Last year, the EU drastically cut back its rescue efforts in the Mediterranean, and MOAS has stepped in to try and fill the gap. Consider donating to this organization to help keep its efforts going.
This Family is Saving the Lives of Thousands of MigrantsWhile the EU argues over what to do about its migrant problem, one family has taken matters into its own hands.
Posted by AJ+ on Sunday, May 31, 2015
2. Help Refugees in Lebanon Help Themselves
UNHCR estimates that, by the end of 2015, there will be approximately 2 million Syrian refugees in Lebanon, which has a population of only about 4.5 million. Basmeh and Zeitooneh is a grassroots organization, established by Syrians in Lebanon, to help meet the needs of refugees and other vulnerable communities in the country. Here’s why Basmeh and Zeitooneh’s work is so special:
Unlike the majority of NGOs based in Lebanon, Basmeh and Zeitooneh operates out of the communities it seeks to serve, where access to grassroots support is often minimal. The programs are, accordingly, entirely needs-led, and the local population can easily access the center and access the services on offer. Moreover, the approach of the organization is to provide capacity-building support within the team itself, by hiring and training individuals from within these communities, and creating jobs in a highly restricted labour market.
The organization has established five community centers, where social services are provided to marginalized populations. The first, and largest, community center is based in the Shatila refugee camp, which was created for Palestinian refugees in 1949 and has long been neglected, but is under increasing pressure since the start of the Syrian conflict.
Help Basmeh and Zeitooneh continue its work, by volunteering with the organization or donating here. If you need a little inspiration, check out this video about the organization and the people it is helping.
3. Help Refugees in Jordan Put Food on the Table
The Collateral Repair Project (CRP) was established in Amman, Jordan in 2006 by two American women who “who worked hard to stop the US invasion of Iraq and grieved over the loss of innocent lives in their name. They wanted to establish an organization that allowed for a direct connection between citizens of coalition countries and innocent Iraqis who suffered from the consequences of war.” These days the organization is helping both Iraqi and Syrian refugees in Jordan, through a community center and initiatives that include a food voucher program. As the organization explains, the food voucher program is particularly vital:
Refugees in Jordan are forbidden by law to work, so food security is crucial–and always at the top of their minds. The families we serve live in dire poverty and, without CRP’s monthly food vouchers, they would have to beg for food or go without. While other organizations give one-time food supplies such as rice and lentils, our program gives refugee families the flexibility to purchase what they need. They come once a month to pick up their vouchers, which they use to purchase groceries and fresh produce at a local supermarket.
If you donate to the organization, here are some of the people you’ll be helping:
4. Send A Syrian Child to School for $175/month
The Karam Foundation is a U.S.-based non-profit serving Syrians inside Syria, as well as refugees from the country. Founded in 2007 in Chicago, the organization has focused on projects relating to Syria since 2011. Karam Foundation works to develop aid networks within Syria itself, and is committed to directing “100% of your donations to impacting Syrian lives.” With the school year about to start, the organization has launched a Back to School campaign to help rebuild schools destroyed by barrel bombs and send children to class instead of work. For a $175/month, you can ensure that a Syrian child is able to go to school.
5. Give People in Syria the Aid They Actually Need
Karam Foundation’s “Smart Aid” program provides local populations in Syria with support they actually need. The group’s projects range from organizing winter food deliveries to communities in Idlib province to supporting the White Helmets, an organization made up of volunteers who rescue people trapped in bombed out and destroyed buildings in Syria’s conflict zones. Learn more and donate to the Smart Aid program here. Watch the video below to learn more about the food delivery Karam Foundation made to Idlib last year.
6. Help Syrian Orphans
Writer and activist, Jillian C. York, turned us onto Syrianorphans.org, a small non-profit organization based in Illinois. The organization works inside Syria and with refugee communities in neighboring countries. According to the group’s website,”[b]y donating just $50 a month, less than $2 a day, you will provide an orphaned child with food, shelter, clothing and medical care.”
7. Help Syrian Refugees in Egypt Pursue Their Education
As of March 2015, there were almost 150,000 Syrian refugees in Egypt – a number that only includes those able to actually register as refugees (officials estimate there are hundreds of thousands who have been unable to register). According to a report by Refugee Council USA, the Egyptian government has been particularly unwelcoming to those fleeing the war in Syria. As the report states,”[u]nable to gain legal employment opportunities, refugees in Cairo struggle to make ends meet. Most have no meaningful local integration options, and all are living in an extremely xenophobic, unwelcoming environment for refugees.”
But, various NGOs in the country are trying to make a difference and improve the conditions facing refugees in Egypt. Khatwa Network is one of these groups. The organization focuses primarily on helping Syrian refugees continue with their education, particularly higher education, by providing assistance with applications and administrative processes. The group’s Facebook page and website are both exclusively in Arabic, so it will be hard for those who don’t speak the language to navigate and learn more about Khatwa’s work. That being said, the group comes very highly recommended – it is run by Syrian refugees themselves and works hand in hand with the very well respected Michigan-based NGO, Jusoor, which provides education and employment opportunities to Syrian youth.
Unfortunately, Khatwa does not accept financial donations at the moment – but if you’re in Cairo, you can contact them to find other ways to help. You can also get a feel for Khatwa’s work by watching this video:
8. Help Provide Refugees in Egypt with Much Needed Psychological Services and Legal Aid
St Andrew’s Refugee Services (StARS) has years of experience in serving refugees, asylum-seekers, and vulnerable migrant communities in Egypt. Since its establishment in 1997, StARS has provided counseling services, legal aid (especially for resettlement), as well as educational assistance to refugees and migrants from a variety of countries, including Ethiopia, Iraq, Sudan, South Sudan, Somalia, Eritrea, and Syria. According to the organization, it is currently serving over 3,000 individuals, “provid[ing] high-quality services meeting unaddressed needs of refugees and asylum seekers, and [providing] a safe and inclusive space for displaced people to come together as a community.”
For a modest sum, you can do a lot to help StARS continue its work.
- $50 provides 12 hours of professional interpretation for clients in StARS legal aid program
- $100 provides a healthy lunch for 220 school children
- $500 provides two months of psychosocial support to refugee communities through one of StARS’s case workers.
To donate to StARS, click here.
9. Provide Life-Saving Medical Care to Syrian Refugee Children Caught in the Cross Fire
INARA is the brain child of CNN correspondent, Arwa Damon, who established the organization to provide critical medical care to children in the Middle East region who have suffered horrific, war-related injuries. Based out of Beirut, Lebanon, INARA is currently focused on serving refugee children and describes its work as “fill[ing] the gaps in access to medical treatment when not provided by other institutions or non-profits, including financial assistance where needed. INARA does not compete with, but complements pre-existing medical facilities by building partnerships in order to secure reduced or pro bono care.” INARA serves as the link between these vulnerable children and medical providers, acting as “dedicated case managers” and following cases from beginning to end. Cases like that of four-year-old Sara:
INARA’s work process is transparent and explained step-by-step on its website. It has partnered with groups like UNICEF and is sponsored by organizations that include Google for Non-Profits among others.
INARA guarantees that 100% of donations go to the children it serves, in order to cover “medical costs, transportation to the facility, and follow-up treatment to ensure that should relapses occur or additional care be needed it is handled appropriately.” Donations to the organization, which are transferred through UNICEF, can be made here.
10. Help Refugees in Greece, ‘Cause Greece Is Past Its Breaking Point
Salaam Cultural Museum (“SCM”) is a small charitable organization based in Seattle, Washington. Founded in 1996, its work has historically focused on publishing information about the Middle East and North Africa region and fostering understanding of the region. For the last few years, the organization has been facilitating deliveries of humanitarian and medical aid to the region. Most recently, the group has been focused on helping displaced Syrians. This September, SCM will be traveling to the Greek Islands to provide humanitarian and medical aid to refugees. SCM’s website explains the purpose and urgency of this mission:
We have teamed up with a local NGO who have been on the front lines intercepting refugees from the beaches; working with a limited number of volunteers and supplies. SCM is currently collecting funds to provide emergency supplies such food, water, blankets and limited medication on the ground and in person during this upcoming trip.
In July of this year alone 50,242 individuals entered Greece’s borders by sea in pursuit of safety, which is more than all of 2014 combined. According the UNHCR, roughly 82% are of Syrian-origin, with the remainder from Iraq and Afghanistan . The total number of refugees and migrants crossing the Mediterranean this year has reached a staggering 264,500 with roughly 160,000 landing in Greece and 2,300 lives lost in the journey.
The islands of Kos and Lesvos are seeing the majority of refugees touch base on their beaches. After a terrifying voyage, a very limited number of local NGO’s and Greek nationals are scrambling to accept them with food, water, and emergency supplies. Unfortunately, the UN reception centers are located across the islands. This leaves the refugees with anywhere from a 40-70 kilometer trek on foot to be processed by the UN . A local NGO, METAction has been attempting to provide travel assistance during this journey. For others, it depends on the kindness of Greek nationals.
The reception centers in place are often in unofficial locations such as parks, stadiums, fields and in one case in Kos- a police department. The UN has recently opened a new processing center in Eleonas, Athens which is available to house 700 refugees at capacity . This reception center is the most developed in all of Greece in response to the refugee crisis, but is still lacking basic medical and humanitarian assistance. Greek nationals have personally taken it on themselves to assist with food, shelter, and water in unofficial centers although they are struggling themselves with the harsh economy.
Although Greece is ultimately doing its best, its lack of infrastructure is felt by the refugees who wish to move on to other European countries due to a lack of resources and stability. SCM will be doing what it can to help, with your support leading the way.
To donate to the group’s Emergency Greece Fund, click here.
11. This Organization on the Greek Island of Lesvos Is Providing Refugees with Food and Shelter
The NGO ‘Agkalia’ has been serving refugees on the Greek Island of Lesvos since 2007. Led by a local activist named Papa Stratis, and a small cohort of volunteers, Agkalia has often taken sole responsibility for helping the hundreds of refugees arriving to Lesvos every day this summer. According to UNHCR, as of early July 2015, more than 26,000 have arrived to Lesvos alone since January. UNHCR profiled Agkalia and Papa Stratis recently and had this to say about their work (including the video below):
“We have no external funding,” [Papa Stratis] explains with a smile. “We depend completely on the generosity of the local people.”
His battered wine-red Citroën Xantia – he calls it “Tarzan” for its ability to scramble onto the island’s most inaccessible corners – is always packed with food, water and spare clothes.
“One day we found a baby asleep in his mother’s arms at the beach. We wanted to give him milk but didn’t have a bottle and he couldn’t drink from a glass. It was in the middle of the night, so we woke up all the pharmacies in town until we found a bottle,” Papa Stratis chuckles cheekily.
Hard-hit by a pervasive debt crisis and circumscribed by economics, politics and geography, small communities in the Greek islands are having to deal with the fallout of conflicts far away of which they know and understand little. Many islanders are wary of the destitute refugees who arrive in their midst. Others worry about the impact their presence will have on tourism. But many, like Papa Stratis, are rolling up their sleeves and stepping forward to help.
For those who can, Agkalia is most interested in having volunteers help out with its work. Here’s what the group posted on its Facebook page recently:
Good morning to everyone! We are in great need of volunteers in October! Your coming here and seeing what we do, the stories and experiences you’ll take back with you, your hands and brain cannot be bought with any amount of money. If it is possible keep your donations, turn them into tickets and come here! Anyone who is available can contact us tomorrow from 9 am at +306983601223
12. Provide Translation Services to Refugees Stuck in Hungary…from the Comfort of Your Own Home!
Translators are desperately needed to help refugees transiting through Hungary. But, you don’t need to actually be in Hungary to help. Activists have set up a system for interested individuals to provide translation services over the phone. Arabic, Urdu, and Pashto speakers are particularly needed. Here’s a message that’s been circulating on Facebook about the initiative and how you can get involved:
Refugees at Keleti Station and in the border camps here in Hungary CANNOT BE PROCESSED or helped with VITAL DOCUMENTATION and medical and family needs without interpretors. Hungary is not a cosmopolitan London, Bradford, Sheffield etc – I think we can count on one hand the number of people here who speak ARABIC, URDU, PASHTO or also GREEK, FRENCH, ALBANIAN and TURKISH to help refugees with documents they may have been able to pick up en route. Migration Aid Hungary does not need people to be physically here to help – just available on skype, telephone, email. You can contact them here: email@example.com.
In order to facilitate the processing of any offers of translation support to Migration Aid, my University in Budapest has set up a database that you can access [here].
The situation is urgent and pressing for a host of reasons beyond the appalling conditions people are being held in, their despair and frustration at not being able to communicate, because we have many sick travellers, and most specifically because an already brutal Hungarian government response steps up a dramatic gear midnight Tuesday with new legislation allowing for the arrest of ‘illegal’ refugees. However you do it, we massively need you to communicate this to the relevant language communities.
13. Help Provide Housing for Refugees in Germany or in Your Own Country
A group of private citizens decided they needed to do more to help refugees resettle in Germany. So they created, “Refugees Welcome,” which is being described as the “Airbnb for refugees.” The project started in Berlin in November 2014 and has since launched in Austria (in January 2015). Refugees Welcome connects refugees with people who are willing to shelter them in their own homes. The website explains the ethos behind the project: “We are convinced that refugees should not be stigmatized and excluded by being housed in mass accommodations. Instead, we should offer them a warm welcome. We believe we can establish a more humane culture of welcoming refugees!”
Consider donating to the group or setting up your own refugee welcome committee in your community.
14. If You’re in Switzerland, This Organization Can Help You Host Refugees
Organisation d’aide suisse aux réfugiées (OSAR) provides assistance to refugees in Switzerland, in part, by connecting them with host families in the country’s various cantons. Learn more about the organization here. If you’re interested in being involved in more concrete, on-going projects relating to refugee aid in Switzerland, the Centre social protestants-EPER (Entraide protestante) is a good place to start.
15. Sign a Petition or Email Your Representative and Encourage Your Government to Accept More Refugees!
Petition signing may not seem like much, but every little bit helps.
For the Brits out there, you can send an email directly to Prime Minister David Cameron, urging him to do more to help refugees coming into Europe. You can also sign this petition calling on the UK to accept more refugees and asylum-seekers; the petition has received more than 260,000 signatures, surpassing the 100,000 needed to trigger a parliamentary debate. According to the latest figures, the UK has taken in only 216 Syrian refugees – a figure, the Washington Post, noted was barely large enough to fill an entire Tube train.
Are you from Iceland? Well, there’s a petition for you to sign, urging your government to accept more refugees as well. In the past five years, Iceland has accepted thirty-nine refugees, thirteen from Syria.
If you’re from the Gulf region, well, let’s just say your countries could do a whole lot more to help accommodate refugees – here’s a petition urging them to do just that.
Australians – you can do your part too (since your government isn’t). Sign this Amnesty International petition calling Prime Minister Tony Abbott to increase the number of Syrian refugees admitted to Australia by 20,000.
16. Buy a Cookbook and Help Feed Some Syrian Refugees
Soup for Syria, Recipes to Celebrate Our Shared Humanity comes out on September 15, featuring recipes from celebratory chefs like Anthony Bourdain, Alice Waters, and Yotam Ottolenghi. According to the book’s website, profits (unclear if that means ALL profits) will go to “help fund food relief efforts to Syrian refugees” (not clear exactly which efforts or run by who).
The question marks and vagaries aside, the impulse and goal behind the book is something worth supporting:
The world has failed Syria’s refugees and some of the world’s wealthiest countries have turned their backs on this humanitarian disaster. Syria’s neighbors-Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey, and Iraq-have together absorbed more that 3.8 million refugees. The need for food relief is great and growing.
Acclaimed chefs and cookbook authors the world over have come together to help food relief efforts to alleviate the suffering of Syrian refugees. Each has contributed a recipe to this beautifully illustrated cookbook of delicious soups from around the world.
Our hope is that one day the refugees will be able to return to their country and rebuild their lives. For now, though, what we can do is listen to their pleas. Be part of this vital work of saving lives and help us deliver essential food items to the displaced refugees.
To purchase the book directly from the publisher, click here.
17. If You Must Give to One of the Big International Orgs, Then Double Your Impact!
Google is matching donations 1:1 for the first $5.5 million raised through its “Refugee and Migrant Crisis” fund raising effort. The money will be distributed to four large international NGOs: the International Rescue Committee, Doctors Without Borders, Save the Children, and the UN High Commissioner for Refugees. Donate here.
18. This Is Only One List. Don’t Stop Here. Look for More Opportunities to Help
The Sina Network, which helps refugees by providing them with “basic needs, making their voices heard, and building capacities,” along with the Refugee Relief Action Forum: Europe, have put together a very long and seemingly comprehensive list of organizations in the Middle East and Europe that are helping refugees. Check out their resource for more opportunities to do your part. Most importantly, stay committed to the cause. The refugee crisis isn’t going away any time soon, no matter how quickly the news cycle moves on.