"National Day of..." do such a good job of bringing everyone's attention to an topic at the same time. Some are so fun and lighthearted, such as National Say Something Nice Day (June 1) and some are exceptionally tasty such as National Donut Day (June 2), which we celebrated with a Katz Gluten-Free Donut. But others cast a critically needed spotlight on uncomfortable topics. June 20th is one of those days: World Refugee Day.
The world is currently experiencing the largest refugee crisis since World War II with more than 60 million refugees around the world. One issue that complicates the problem is that it is easy to confuse the difference between a refugee and an immigrant.
REFUGEE: someone forced to leave their country due to a life-threatening event such as war or famine.
IMMIGRANT: people leaving their country because they want to, such as to seek economic opportunity elsewhere.
Refugees are escaping violence and leaving everything behind. They have often experienced trauma or the deaths of loved ones close to them. And yet, in the intense debate around refugees, it is still easier to default to "We are afraid of you," rather that "We are with you."
The conversation seems to start and end around whether refugees should be allowed entry into the United States, but that's only where the story starts.
The problems refugees face upon entry into the United States are numerous. They have been completely displaced and must start over completely in a country unlike anything they’re used to.
“Refugees want the same things we want. They want peace, freedom and safety. They want to contribute to their new community. They are fleeing the same type of violence that we are afraid of, and they care about the refugee program being safe and secure, just like U.S. citizens do. Above all, they want to build a good life for themselves and their families, and hope for good things for future generations.” -Susan Sperry, Executive Director of World Relief Dupage/Aurora
The problems begin the second a refugee steps off a plane and has to find their suitcase, and last much longer than the 30-90 days they receive government help. And that's were we come in. Debates aside, once the refugees are here, there are simple steps we can take to show support and basic hospitality and humanity.
What are simple ways you can help support refugees?
1. Perhaps the biggest issue is refugees' limited English. Their knowledge of English is the most helpful thing they have in getting around, having better housing, and advancing in this foreign country. Refugees are authorized to work, and are often given a low-paying job upon their entry to the country with the help of a resettlement agency. English is their greatest hope in getting better jobs to provide for their family. Consider donating your time helping refuges practice their English by doing ESL training. Google "Refugee ESL Volunteer Programs" and you'll easily be able to find a program near you.
2. Refugees coming here often have very little belongings, and certainly no furniture. World Relief offices around the country accept furniture and other large donations. If you live close to one of them, consider donating whatever belongings you have to them instead of a generic thrift shop.
Because refugees come with such little belongings, you can also purchase a “Welcome Kit.” You can pick which sort of kit you would like to donate to bless refugees upon their arrival. If you’re are able to volunteer with World Relief, then you can even deliver kits to refugees yourself.
3. Helping refugees starts with telling their story. Those unwilling to help refugees are often unaware of the struggles they face. Consider sharing a post on social media or bringing the topic up in a conversation today.
4. Make sure you’re informed yourself. We are really loving this TED Talk by Melissa Fleming and her book, these virtual tours of 5 different refugee camps; becoming conscious of the realities in the conversation makes our first-world problems look small.
5. Choose hospitality. Regardless of if your city has a high refugee population or not, acts of kind hospitality when you do come into contact with refugees can go along way. Hospitality is contagious and when you start welcoming others regardless of their descent, others will do the same.
6. Support HumanWire. They make it simple and connect you with refugees with specific needs that you are able to learn about and sponsor. If you choose, you’re even able to talk to the refugee family that you are helping. You can print their picture out and hang it on a fridge as a daily reminder of what others are going through and how you’re helping them. 100% of the money you contribute goes to the refugee. HumanWire takes 0%.
7. Wear earrings from Drop Earrings Not Bombs or accessories from Gaia to show your support for refugees. Both companies employ resettled refugees in either Turkey or Texas, giving them a meaningful, healing form of work in their new home. They’re also great conversation starters about the refugee crisis! We also love the Natural Dyed Fabric Journal from Global Goods Partners because it is wrapped in organic cotton and colored using only natural dyes. The journals are handmade by artisans on the Thai-Burmese border.
Refugees need help in every step of the process. Here are a few more of our favorite organizations for you to check out:
If you know of other programs you highly recommend or have work with, please share below in the comments!