Refugees in Iceland
As Iceland stands geographically remote with wisps of chilly Arctic air and an intimate population of 323,000, refugees in Iceland who have been granted asylum have experienced a unique assimilation. In a Telegraph article, a Syrian refugee commented, “For us, [Iceland] is the freezer” while Audur Magnuscdottir, a biochemist helping a family settle said, “[Iceland] is dark, it’s cold and it’s windy – it must be hell. Just to get used to going out in the cold is a huge step.”

Yet in light of Iceland’s unusual characteristics, the majority of Icelanders have welcomed refugees with open arms. Here are 10 facts about refugees in Iceland:

  1. Since Iceland’s refugee policy first initiated in 1956, the country has accepted a grand total of 584 refugees, a rate lower than other Nordic countries. According to data from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, there has been a total of 17,785 refugees accepted in Denmark, 142,207 in Sweden and 47,043 in Norway.
  2. Since 1956, groups and families of refugees have arrived from a diverse range of countries — Vietnam, Poland, Hungary, former Yugoslavia and Serbia.
  3. Post-recession, Iceland’s economy has recovered at a four percent growth rate per year. However, according to a PBS report, Iceland would require 2,000 new immigrants a year to maintain that level of growth — refugees would contribute to this number. Mayor of Akureyri, Iceland, Eirikur Bjorgvinsson, explains that refugees contribute more to Iceland’s economy than the amount of assistance that they are actually receiving.
  4. In order to become assimilated in Iceland society, the government offers financial assistance, education, health services, housing, furniture and a telephone for up to one year to refugees in Iceland.
  5. According to the Ministry of Welfare, the policy in Iceland has welcomed a quota of 25 to 30 refugees every year. However, this quota has changed in the last few years with the crisis in Syria, protests from Icelandic citizens and an exception in 1999 with the outbreak of the war in Kosovo.
  6. The largest group of refugees accepted together in Iceland was comprised of 75 people, who were all from Kosovo in 1999. The smallest group to migrate to Iceland in a single year was comprised of five people in 2014, who hailed from Zimbabwe, Cameroon, Uganda and Syria.
  7. In September 2015, via Facebook, 11,000 Icelanders called on the government to increase its intake of refugees. At that time, the Icelandic government had only pledged to accept 50 refugees.
  8. Amid the conflict in Syria, with 4 million Syrians fleeing the country and a further 7.6 million being displaced inside Syria, 48 Syrian refugees from the United Nation’s refugee camp in Lebanon have found new homes in Iceland since January 19 of this year. An additional 40 refugees will be arriving in Iceland this fall.
  9. A refugee committee suggested that the municipalities of Reykjavik, Árborg and Hveragerði, Iceland receive Syrian refugees due to its strength in employment opportunities, housing and abundance of Red Cross chapters.
  10. Although many refugees in Iceland have found peaceful relocation to Iceland with citizens embracing the new diversity created with the influx among their predominantly white and Christian population, many who have entered Iceland with false and forged passports have been jailed due to a violation of international law. The typical sentence is 30 days in jail, legal fees from 50,000 to 125,000 ISK.

Priscilla Son

Photo: Flickr

The Vatican has taken in several Syrian refugees over the last few months. In April of 2016, Pope Francis took 12 Muslim Syrians from three different families into the Vatican as refugees. In June, he welcomed nine more Syrians as Vatican City refugees, seeming very symbolic to many individuals throughout Europe and the rest of the world. The refugees that were brought into the Vatican were very grateful for the Pope’s “gesture of hope” and some even went on to call him a savior.

Being a refugee is difficult but being a refugee in Vatican City is not only difficult but also very interesting due to the uniqueness of the situation. Here are 10 facts about Vatican City refugees:

    1. The Greek island of Lesbos is where many Syrian refugees are being held and where the Pope took in a portion of the refugees in Vatican City. Most of the refugees on the island of Lesbos feel as though they are trapped as prisoners in the neglected detention center. They are also constantly at risk of being sent back to Turkey due to a new deportation deal between the E.U. and Turkey.
    2. The refugees the Pope took from Greece on his visit in April consisted of three families whose homes had been bombed in the Syrian war. After bringing these refugees to the Vatican, the Pope declared that he wanted to make a gesture of welcome for the refugees.
    3. Even though many thought the Pope’s action in taking in these refugees were on a whim, his actions were actually carefully thought out and had involved a large amount of planning and paperwork for not only the Vatican and Italy, but also Greece.
    4. The Pope’s refugees will all be taken care of by the Catholic charitable association, Sant’Egidio, which will help care for the families and assist them in finding work.
    5. When questioned about why these specific families were chosen to be taken from Greece to the Vatican, the Pope did not explain, but instead simply stated that: “They are guests of the Vatican.”
    6. Beginning in the summer of 2015, thousands of migrants, mostly from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan, journeyed into Lesbos after paying smugglers to make the brief sea journey from Turkey. This smuggling of refugees caused the E.U. to have a political crisis which, in turn, led several countries to either restrict or completely close their borders.
    7. The number of migrants coming into Greece has fallen significantly since Turkey agreed to take back all of the individuals coming into the Greek islands for billions of dollars in E.U. cash. Over 1.1 million people have covertly crossed from Turkey to Greece since the start of 2015, and hundreds have drowned in this journey.
    8. In 2015, the Pope appealed to all Catholic diocese in Europe to take in a refugee family. Unfortunately, the Pope’s appeal was ignored by the majority of individuals across Europe.
    9. The Pope continued to fight for refugees when he offered special praise for ordinary Greeks who have taken refugees into their homes. Other religious leaders have called upon the E.U. to provide more help for Greece in this migrant crisis.
    10. Currently, there are 20 Syrian refugees living in the Vatican, which consists of 1,000 inhabitants.

While the Pope has clearly been doing his part in the Syrian refugee crisis, the issue has not been solved. However, using the Pope as a model by taking in refugees to the Vatican and treating them with respect, many individuals in Europe and around the world should have a better outlook on Syrian refugees and how they should be treated.

Bella Chaffey

Photo: Flickr

LDS Church

On July 17, 2016, President Dieter F. Uchtdorf, Second Counselor in the First Presidency of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints Church (LDS Church), presented a $3 million donation from the Church to the World Food Programme to help provide food to refugees and displaced persons in Cameroon, Chad and Syria.

One out of nine people go without food every day, and one in two are malnourished. The donation follows other partnerships between the Church and the World Food Programme, which aims to eliminate acute hunger. LDS Charities, the humanitarian arm of the Church, has partnered with the World Food Programme for three consecutive years.

In 2014, LDS Charities partnered with World Food Programme to help those affected by the Ebola crisis. In 2015, they helped alleviate hunger for those suffering from the drought in Ethiopia.

The World Food Programme has the largest transport network, which allows them to take food directly to those in need, including any humanitarian organization. The organization distributed 3.2 million metric tons of food, which directly provided food rations to 75.7 million people in 81 countries. Each of the rations supports an individual for 195 days.

In September, the Church sent $5 million to help displaced families amid the crisis in Europe. The First Presidency also encouraged Latter-day Saint women of all ages to assist refugees in their own communities.

Days after presenting $3 million to the organization, President Uchtdorf visited refugee camps in Athens, Greece. Hosted by Catholic Relief Services and International Rescue Committee, the president visited the Piraeus camp, which serves 1,322 people and the Eleonas camp, which serves as a temporary home to about 2,415 people.

The LDS Church “has been providing aid to refugees for more than a decade, donating hundreds of thousands of clothes, blankets, food, emergency medical supplies and other resources to refugees” in various locations.

Jacqueline Venuti

Photo: Flickr

This 2-minute video should be required watching for all Americans. There’s a reason the U.S. and our allies provide aid and there is a reason for welcoming refugees… This boy explains both, without saying a word.


Ways to Host Refugees AmericaIncreased media coverage of the global refugee crisis has prompted waves of humanitarian support and local activism across the world. Iceland made headlines when 10,000 of its citizens volunteered to house personally refugees coming from Syria, and others have followed suit in finding ways to host refugees, from Berlin to Birmingham.

Wondering about ways to host refugees in your home? Not everyone can personally provide housing, but below are three simple ways to get started in the effort to welcome refugees to America.

3 Ways to Host Refugees in America

  1. Become aware of local need. It’s easier than ever to become connected to relief and charitable organizations near you. Some of the largest and most wide-reaching of resettlement agencies in the United States are the International Rescue Committee and Catholic Community Services, both of which organize humanitarian aid in over 100 U.S. cities. Spend some time reaching out to charitable organizations in your area to find out what their current needs are, who their clients are, and what types of schools, health or religious organizations work with them.
  2. Consider temporarily housing a refugee. Although refugees admitted to the United States for resettlement are usually quickly connected with local relief agencies, refugees are often vulnerable to unstable housing conditions or even homelessness. Several U.S. and international agencies are searching for individuals and families with extra rooms that they are willing to use to host recently arrived refugees, especially those in crisis or extreme circumstances. Connect with Room for Refugees, which specializes in providing safe temporary housing for refugees living in the United Kingdom, the United States, Europe and Canada. The chance to personally share your home with a refugee can be immensely rewarding, and provide desperately needed help for those adjusting to life in a new place. Looking for ways to host refugees in your home? Search for organizations like the Karam Foundation, a nonprofit group providing aid for Syrians, which is currently seeking to help new refugees find housing with Americans of Syrian descent. Many private nonprofit organizations are seeking to connect refugees with a variety of services for temporary housing, and your opportunity to help could be as close as your front door.
  3. Consider ways to host refugees by connecting them with neighbors. Becoming a friend and neighbor to refugees struggling to resettle may be the most powerful way to combat hateful rhetoric, both in the U.S. and abroad. Agencies like the International Rescue Committee, among others, place a high priority on helping refugee families find friends, neighbors and support structures within their new communities. When the 2015 cap for U.S. resettlement of refugees was raised to 85,000 from 70,000, it prompted waves of polarization and xenophobia across the country. A Pew Research Center survey even showed that a majority of Americans disapprove of helping to resettle more Syrians within our borders. The International Rescue Committee, along with other agencies, regularly recruit home mentors for refugee families, providing you with the opportunity to welcome your new friends into your home, or you into theirs, as you solidify a new friendship.Other aid agencies are in constant need of home tutors, both for students struggling to adjust to life in American public schools, as well as adults returning to school or learning English as a second language.

    While in-kind and monetary donations of food, clothing, furniture and supplies can help a refugee family build a home, the chance to be a family mentor, tutor or friend may do more to help refugees feel like they belong.

The U.S. admits record numbers of refugees, but schools and government agencies still struggle to help refugees feel at home and safe. Helping to find ways to host refugees and opening your home, either literally or otherwise, is a critical opportunity to be part of solving the world’s worst refugee crisis in 70 years. More importantly, it’s a chance to help your neighbors know that they belong.

Eliza Campbell

Photo: U.N. Multimedia

Poverty in Syria
In early June, Darayya, the rebel-held suburb of Damascus, received its first aid convoy in four years. While the delivery was invaluable to helping alleviate poverty in Syria. However, the U.N. was unable to send more than a month’s worth of medical supplies and food.

Reuters reports that the U.N. received permission for this exchange in March, but the Syrian government would not permit any more deliveries. They claimed that the rebels have plenty of supplies.

In addition, BBC reports that the population of Syria has dropped by at least 6.5 million in five years. Unfortunately, the war and poverty in Syria has led to this massive displacement and death. the BBC estimates that approximately 6 million people are refugees, and between 100-500 thousand are dead.

Those left behind face sieges, soaring food prices and decreased access to important institutions like hospitals or schools. Throughout the country, the civil war has left many.

At least 13.5 million of the 17.9 million people still in Syria desperately need assistance.

Another article from the BBC displays something even more harrowing. The names and dates of children killed in the war reel, one right after the other, across the screen.

The stories are short, similar and sobering: “Seta Naser al-Krad, a girl from Deraa, was shot and killed on 25 March 2011… Anas Muayad al-Wassa, a boy from Hama, was executed on 24 February 2012.” Underneath, the article states that over 19 hours would be required to read them all.

Currently, the population of Darayya—8,000 individuals—needs more food if they are going to outlast the siege. The government’s assurance that they have plenty does not match inhabitants’ reports. Constant bombardments and the long siege have destroyed a place once renowned for its grapes, apricots and olives.

Tales now range from kids growing ill from eating nothing but soup and salad to foraging for grass as rations dwindle.

One woman reports that her young grandson does not know what fruit is.

The U.N. has struggled to get aid to the rebels facing siege in Darayya. While they were able to gain permission for this convoy, the regime has been successful in blocking previous attempts.

Few rebels waited to receive the convoy. Syrians who did manage to receive aid were incredibly grateful.

Considering the obstacles, distributing medical supplies is a huge step for the U.N. and Darayya. The situation in Syria remains dire, but small successes such as this one make a large impact and will save hundreds of lives.

Jeanette Burke

Photo: Flickr


Smartphones can go a long way in helping refugees to stay safe, connected and assimilate into new communities.

According to research conducted by Penn State University, about 86 percent of young Syrian refugees at Zaatari Camp of Jordan own cell phones and more than half access the Internet daily.

During dangerous and long journeys, the luxury of smartphones helps ensure safety by keeping refugees connected with their family members. In addition, something as simple as taking and sharing photos helps to maintain a sense of community.

Navigation applications like Google Maps have also drastically changed the scene by helping refugees to travel without a heavy dependence on guides. When they do need to hire guides, information and reviews on social networking services including Facebook and WhatsApp ensure quality of service and prevent trafficking related crimes.

Some applications specifically target refugees and their needs. Google’s Crisis Info Hub lists travel information for those entering Europe through the island of Lesbos, with hotline Red Cross contacts and lodgings.

Gherbtna (“exile” or “loneliness” in Arabic), developed by Mojahed Akil who is himself a Syrian refugee, provides resettlement advice and guidelines. On the other side of the border, countries accommodating refugees have established similar information services such as Germany’s Refugee Welcome.

Another way that smartphone use is helping refugees is through increased accessibility to educational tools. In a situation where access to a formal education is near impossible, the Internet provides ubiquitous access to educational material.

The Guardian notes that there are “more than 80,000 education apps in Apple’s App Store, ranging from phonics to physics.”

The nonprofit organization Aiim develops education apps for refugees between the ages of 12 and 16 that are available offline, even in areas without Internet connection. The organization hopes to reach 10,000 Syrian refugees  by the end of next year through pilot programs in Jordan and Lebanon.

Haena Chu

Photo: Flickr

refugee volunteers

Crossing by sea and land, over 1 million refugees sought asylum in Europe in 2015, according to the BBC. The source says that numbers continue to increase, reaching 135,711 refugees between January and early March of this year.

Those fleeing conflict in Syria, in addition to Afghanistan, Iraq, Kosovo, Albania, Pakistan and other high-risk countries, are often left stranded and unable to return to their home country. Unfortunately, refugees typically have a difficult time assimilating into society when they are accepting into host countries.

In Across Borders, a month-long online conversation hosted by Devex and other partners, Richard Dictus, the executive coordinator of United Nations Volunteers (UNV), writes about the conditions of displaced individuals and asylum seekers.

In addition to the problem of refugee assistance, he notes that human migration brings to light issues surrounding discrimination as well as sexual and gender-based violence within these groups.

Larger international organizations such as the UNHCR Volunteers, the International Rescue Committee (IRC) and Exodus Refugee have been active members in assisting refugees during this crisis.

According to Amnesty International, 104,410 resettlement places have been offered globally since the start of the Syrian crisis. Close to half of these asylum applications were submitted to Germany and Sweden.

In addition to European intervention, United Nations Volunteers (UNVs) working on endeavors in Lebanon, Jordon Turkey, Iraq and Egypt—where more than 4 million refugees from Syria are located—have made a significant impact.

Of note, a collaborative project between the U.N. Relief and Works Agency and the European Union, where national UNV teachers are deployed to schools for Palestinian refugees located throughout Lebanon, promotes the integrity of refugees within the humanitarian crisis with refugee-to-refugee assistance.

The program mobilizes former Palestinian refugees, who have become integrated into Lebanon culture, as administrators to the new wave of refugees. The communication with these refugee volunteers can go along way in providing advice and guidance, since they share similar experiences.

Partnerships both in and outside of the European continue to make headway in terms of providing refugee volunteers and much-needd assistance. Refugee-to-refugee volunteerism serves as yet another way in which human integrity is upheld within a time of great need.

Nora Harless

Photo: Flickr

empathy video games
Recently, an increasing number of indie video game developers have been producing games, interactive media and virtual realities that aim to teach people about pressing social issues.

These broadly termed “empathy video games” commonly seek to evoke compassion in the player by creating an experience that provides a detailed look into the trials and tribulations the game’s characters undergo.

These games have covered a broad range of topics such as cancer, gender dysphoria and child abuse, according to The Telegraph.

Lately, a number of empathy video games have sought to raise awareness and understanding for issues related to global issues such as poverty and the refugee crisis. Here are a few examples of empathy video games:


North, by Outland Games, aims to demonstrate the difficulties refugees face when attempting to migrate and integrate into new places. You play as a refugee seeking asylum in a strange city, finding yourself disoriented and confused as you attempt to decipher the customs and codes of those who govern.

“In terms of its design…we worked on a web documentary about European migration policies with a few other journalists from across Europe. We also worked in refugee centers and saw all these people getting lost in endless paperwork and absurd procedures. So we had all this background knowledge and personal attachment to the refugee situation that we wanted to come across in the game,” said Gabriel Helfenstein, one half of the duo that comprises Outlands Games.

The game does not attempt to realistically emulate any of the world’s ongoing refugee crises; rather, it highlights the universal emotions of horror, grief, confusion, frustration and guilt that accompany all refugee situations. This is reflected in its design, which takes on a dark, surreal form.

Project Syria

Project Syria is a virtual reality project that places the user in two separate scenarios: in the midst of a bomb explosion on a busy street in Aleppo and in a refugee camp. The team behind Project Syria conducted extensive research to depict the situations as accurately as possible.

“…we managed to find two handicam videos of the explosion and traced the location to find out exactly where and when it happened,” Vangelis Lympouridis, co-producer of the project, told Motherboard.

“We pulled still frames from the videos, created panoramic shots, and used those to build the Aleppo neighborhood hit by the blast. For the refugee camp, we sent a team to the camp to record the situation. The audio is all real, which really creates a sense of presence.”

Project Syria has been billed as “immersive journalism” for its capacity to put people inside the story. Its creator, Nonny de la Peña, has previously created several other immersive environments to help ordinary people understand the plights of those affected by pressing social problems.

“I want to tell important stories,” de la Peña told The Telegraph. “And I want to do that in a way that brings them to life as much as possible and helps the audience find out about, or better understand, or feel more strongly about, a particular situation. Virtual reality has the unique ability to make you feel present on scene and that in turn generates a very powerful feeling of empathy.”

Cross Dakar City

Cross Dakar City focuses on the issue of child beggars (enfants talibés) in Senegal. The game follows Mamadou, a child beggar who is trying to cross the streets of Dakar in order to find his parents and return home. Mamadou has to avoid fast-moving vehicles, trains, bombs and rivers during the six levels of the game.

This is a widespread problem in Senegal — there were an estimated 50,000 child beggars in the country in 2010, according to Human Rights Watch. The problem arises when poor parents send their male children to Islamic schools to secure a better future for them.

At the schools, Muslim religious leaders sometimes send the young children out to beg on the streets. Though the practice was outlawed in 2005, critics, including the game’s creator, Ousseynou Khadim Bèye, say that the government has done little to enforce the new rules.

In a phone interview with Motherboard, Bèye explained the rationale behind his making of the game. “I wanted to make something that had a positive impact on Senegal and to reach the widest public as possible with this game and highlight the issue of child begging in Senegal. Players have to ensure that Mamadou crosses the streets of Dakar with their iconic local taxis safely. Many child beggars, who are as young as seven, become accident victims; they are also subject to kidnappings and sexual abuse,” he said.

“They also live in terrible conditions, lack access to electricity or water and have very little food,” said Bèye.

Since its release in May 2015, Cross Dakar City has been downloaded 50,000 times. Bèye has plans to make more socially-charged games in the future. “Ultimately, I want to partner with non-profit organizations and make more games on themes like solar energy and deforestation that make people more aware of how these issues are affecting communities in Africa,” he said.

Hazy Days

Mike Ren’s “Hazy Days” is a breathing simulator game that seeks to demonstrate the struggles that China’s high levels of air pollution inflict on its citizens, particularly children.

The player controls Xiao Feng, a little girl about to visit her grandmother for Chinese New Year. The game seeks to replicate her day-to-day experience in a polluted environment.

The player controls her breathing, trying to inhale oxygen molecules and avoid air pollution particles on her walk to school. The goal is to make it through a week without getting sick, so Xiao can visit her grandmother for Chinese New Year.

As the week progresses, more and more air pollution particles build up in Feng’s lungs, illustrating the build-up effect that pollution has. Though it is possible to make it through the week without getting sick, it is a very challenging endeavor.

China’s air pollution problem continues to get worse, despite the widespread media coverage. Air pollution is harmful to everyone, especially children, whose lungs are still developing. Common health problems that develop include asthma, chronic bronchitis, weakening of the immune system and higher rates of cancer. Hundreds of thousands of premature deaths have been linked to air pollution levels.

The emergence of these “empathy video games” points to the expanding efforts to make global issues such as poverty and the refugee crises more well-known in the minds of the general public.

Anton Li

Child RefugeesIn response to the large number of asylum seekers who have reached the country, Germany has hired 8,500 additional teachers to educate child refugees. According to an article in the German newspaper, Die Welt, the new teachers will give special language classes and additional help to the children to help them catch up with their peers.

According to a survey carried out across 16 German states, an estimated 196,000 school-age refugee children entered into the German school system in 2015. They were escaping situations of poverty and war.

“Schools and education administrations have never been confronted with such a challenge,” Brunhild Kurth, head of the education authority in Germany said to Die Welt. “We must accept that this exceptional situation will become the norm for a long time to come.”

Germany has led Europe in welcoming refugees from war-torn areas across the globe. According to Al Jazeera America, over one million asylum seekers entered the country in 2015. The interior ministry of Germany claims this is around five times more than the previous year. Those fleeing war and violence have the greatest likelihood of being granted refugee status. Within that group, refugees from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan make up about half of the asylum applicants in the nation.

An additional 20,000 teachers are expected to be needed in the upcoming months to accommodate a large number of child refugees. This statistic is according to Heinz-Peter Meidinger, head of the DPhV (Deutscher Philologenverband), a teacher’s union in Germany.

Marlis Tepe, head of the GEW, an education and science union in Germany, believes that number may be even higher. “Our formula says for every 100,000 new pupils, we need 8,250 teachers,” Tepe said in an interview with Deutsche Welle.

Saxony, a state in eastern Germany, has hired 300 additional language-focused teachers for the influx of refugees and plans to recruit approximately 190 more, according to CNN. The state plans to focus on providing special German as a second language course for the children.

“It’s an immense challenge, but we are full of confidence that we will cope with the influx of refugees at school,” Manja Kelch, press officer for Saxony’s Ministry of Education and Cultural Affairs, said in an interview with CNN. “Our experience is that the refugees often are very ambitious and willing to integrate. We have examples of refugees who are the best in their classes in our schools, in a very short time.”

Lauren Lewis

Photo: Flickr