The refugee crisis in the EU and the Middle East has pulled in an extensive amount of media coverage recently, and like natural disasters, the horrific situation has motivated many to try and help. There are loads and loads of international organizations, government petitions and small fundraisers floating around to help Syrian refugees in various countries.
In 2014 there were 59.5 million displaced people around the world, and 4 million of them are from Syria. That means that 1 in every 122 people in the world are either a refugee, displaced person, or seeking asylum.
Before we donate, like any good investor (when we donate we are investing in a better world) we have to do a little homework to understand how to approach this particular market. Thankfully there is loads of information out there about why there is currently a refugee crisis unlike anything seen since WWII.
Vox published a great piece called The refugee crisis: 9 questions you were too embarrassed to ask. As well as the shorter: The Syrian refugee crisis, in 4 maps and charts. Skim it, or even just read the big bold numbered bits. I trust you'll get the gist of it; you're a smart cookie.
OK so we've established that the situation is bad. How do we best help?
There has been a massive push to let in more refugees to many countries. Immigration is a hotly contested issue, with most governments leaning towards the conservative perspective of keeping people out. Though as Will MacAskill points out "The question of how many refugees to accept is purely a political one, not an economic one." There has been lots of research on how immigration, and even open borders are actually economically beneficial for the accepting country. Frequently the fear associated with allowing immigrants and refugees isn't actually about economics, but of shifting cultural demographics and a changing sense of national identity.
When comparing to the massive amount of human suffering vs the uncomfortable feeling of a changing community the option to allow in more refugees seems to be the obvious better choice. So perhaps the most impactful way to make make progress on the refugee crisis is actually little grassroots lobbying. There has been an impressive show of support in the EU to accept more refugees. In the US there are lots of petitions out there to sign asking the US to allow in more refugees, and end the Syrian conflict:
- Resettle Syrian Refugees in the US: 30sec
A petition to President Obama to increase the number of refugees accepted to the US to 65,000 by 2016.
- Urge US Government to accept more Syrian refugees: 45sec
A petition to the House of Representatives, the Senate, and President Obama to allow more Syrians into the US.
- Petition to allow more refugees into the US: 30sec
Oxfam petition to President Obama, Secretary of State Kerry, and Secretary of Homeland Security Johnsen to allow 100,000 refugees into the US in the coming year.
- Contact your representative directly: 4min per official
If you do anything do this! It seems a bit scarier but the impact of directly calling or communicating with your representative is exceedingly better than if you sign petitions. It isn't that hard, honest!
Those are the fastest, probably most effective ways to create a long term solution to the refugee crisis. However policy change is slow and hard won. Obama recently increased the number of refugees the US will accept overt the next year to 10,000. This number pales in comparison the the tens of thousands the US used to accept, and those allowed in still face an uphill battle of paperwork.
So how do we help those trying to seek refuge now and make sure we are doing the most good we can? Well the first answer is simple. Send cash. Cash donations are always more useful than sending goods directly.
- UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR): 5min & $20
My best recommendation for your donations. This organization is taxed with supporting all refugees world wide, is supported by the UN, but is still constrained in it's ability to function by lack of funds. Building the international community relies on supporting organizations like this one, and showing your support shows countries that humanitarian aid is valued. The other reason I strongly recommend this organization is because they work on all levels of refugee needs, from emergency shelter and water to legal needs and boat rescues.
- Oxfam America: 2min & $35
Oxfam is working in the refugee camps to establish and maintain sanitation, clean water and to provide essential supplies.
- UNICEF: 2min & $50
Providing food clothes and most importantly immunizations for refugees. Displaced people are hard to track, move constantly and are susceptible to many diseases. Immunizations are important!
There are loads of other organizations out there and lots of other lists that can point you in more donation directions, but after doing some digging these three were the ones that stood out to me as being knowledgeable, transparent, on the ground, and providing necessary services.
I would also be interested in learning about any effective organizations working to help refugees navigate the complex legal systems in place. The US in particular has a rigorous process that includes collecting biometric information and a plethora of bureaucratic hoops. I imagine that finding a way to allow many people to navigate this system quickly would be highly beneficial.
But then again, with more open borders that would be a moot point.
YouGov released poll data for US support of taking in more refugees. Given these numbers I am inclined to think that it may also be a good use of time to start talking with friends about the overall benefits more open border laws. A shift in public opinion is challenging but potentially highly impactful.