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How to Help Refugees and Displaced Populations

The surge of refugees fleeing conflict across the globe reached record numbers and drew widespread attention in 2015. The UNHCR reports that forcibly displaced populations are estimated to have reached nearly 60 million — up 15 million from 2012. Conflicts in Syria, Afghanistan and more than a dozen other regions have all contributed to the climbing numbers.

Forced displacement is rarely short-lived. In the same report, the UNHCR states that on average, refugees will remain displaced for 17 years. For some it will be shorter, others much longer, and for all it will be life-changing. Addressing what the UNHCR calls “A World At War” and what is repeatedly called a “refugee crisis” by the media will also not be short-lived.

Even as articles become dated and tales of flight and hardship are told and retold, the need for aid and compassion has not diminished. For those farther away from the conflict and displacement, here are five ways to help displaced populations and refugees:

1. Contribute to educational opportunities for refugees, displaced populations and populations affected by conflict.

  • Save the Children supports rebuilding and maintaining schools in Syria and neighboring countries. In addition to providing education and health services, the organization strives to create spaces for children to experience a sense of normalcy and achieve their full potential despite the conflict.
  • The Karam Foundation focuses on innovative education projects for Syrian children in Syria and Turkey. Dedicated to “help people help themselves,” the U.S.-based nonprofit allows donors to contribute to specific education projects through its website.

2. Support an organization that is providing aid on the ground.

  • Hand in Hand for Syria is working on the ground to provide emergency aid for Syria. The organization hopes this strategy will prevent people from fleeing and fill the void created by shattered infrastructure, especially health services.
  • The International Rescue Committee is responding to the climbing numbers of refugees on multiple fronts from the Middle East to the Mediterranean and even with resettlement programs in the United States.

3. Help to improve refugee living situations.

  • Shelter Box provides emergency shelter and essential supplies to help displaced populations. The organization is currently active in Syria, Lebanon and Iraqi Kurdistan to name a few.
  • Oxfam America provides clean water, sanitation and other vital supplies to combat poverty, hunger and social injustice. Active in Syria, Jordan and Lebanon, the organization also helps connect refugee families with medical and legal services.

4. Support medical services for displaced populations.

  • Medical Teams International sends teams of volunteer medical professionals and provides medical supplies to people in need. Long term, the organization supports health initiatives and collaborates to ensure its impact is sustainable.
  • Doctors Without Borders is a well-regarded organization that provides medical care to populations who need it most, including those fleeing their homes. Doctors Without Borders sets up hospitals for refugees and provides essential maternal and pediatric care for displaced populations.

5. Volunteer locally as part of a global effort.

  • You could become an online volunteer for UNHCR. The program connects volunteers online with organizations seeking to maximize the impact of their development work. Volunteers can connect with organizations based on their skills, preferred development topics or regions of interest.
  • Consider volunteering through an International Rescue Committee local office. The IRC operates 26 offices throughout the United States supported by volunteers who mentor refugees and assist them with their transition.

– Cara Kuhlman

Sources: Doctors Without Borders, Hand in Hand for Syria, The International Rescue Committee, Karam Foundation, Medical Teams International, NY Times 1, NY Times 2, Public Radio International (PRI), Save the Children, United Nations High Commissioner of Refugees (UNHCR), United Nations Volunteers (UNV)

Photo: Flickr