Have you gasped or shaken your head or cried over refugees this week?
Was it when you saw a picture of Aylan Kurdi, a little boy wearing sneakers just like my son’s, lying dead on a beach? Was it when you saw a picture of him and his brother, smiling on a sofa, before their family became so desperate that the water seemed safer than the land?
Was it when you heard of refugees in the Czech Republic, on their way to open-armed Germany, being rounded up and marched off trains, and having blue marks inked on their arms?
Was it seeing these pictures of what Syrian refugees pack to cross the Mediterranean? A plastic pouch for your electrician’s certificate. Some lemons for the nausea. A laser pen to signal boats if you capsize.
There is a place for shedding true salty tears at all this tragedy. There is a place for lament.
As Lucy writes:
We’re grieving for you
and it’s not enough
Our tears spill as we type our name
our post code
tick the box
to say we’re British
We sign all the petitions,
the official ones, our friend’s ones
I’m number 131,678 on the Independent’s one
and it only started this morning.
Our tears and our signatures
it’s all we’ve got
you can have it
please take them.
They’re not enough.
[Read the rest of the lament at Lulastic.]
Sometimes there’s nothing we can do – or we feel that way.
This is not one of those times. Here are 13 things you can do, today, from anywhere in the world. Maybe you’re not in a position to do all of them, but why don’t you pick one or two to start with.
Actually, it’s 13 headings. Probably a hundred or so ideas. Let me know what you pick 🙂
If you have children in your life, maybe you could look at this list together and see what you can do to make a difference in the world.
Feeding, clothing, housing and looking after 60 million refugees takes a lot of money.
Choose a reputable international charity that’s working with refugees and make a donation:
Partners Relief & Development (working especially with refugees and internally displaced people from Myanmar, including the Rohingya; this is the agency my husband and I are about to start working for)
More options listed here.
There are also heaps of grassroots projects, from people driving to Calais with sleeping bags, to kids buying books to send to refugee camps. Check out JustGiving in the UK and Givealittle in NZ and see what takes your fancy to support. There’s a UK-based list featuring a few here.
Raise money to donate
If you don’t have money in your budget for charitable giving – and I know times are tight for lots of people – think about how you can collect or raise some funds.
Kids, could you spend a few afternoons knocking on your neighbours’ doors, offering to wash cars or weed gardens in return for a donation to a charity supporting refugees? Could you bake some treats and sell them to your friends?
Could you donate your birthday or Christmas presents to refugee kids? Ask people who might be planning to give you a present to instead make a donation to a charity. You could make a real difference to someone without a home – imagine that!
When the lucky few refugees arrive in a new home, they have nothing.
Have a look through your drawers and cupboards and see what you have two of, or more than you really need. Do you have four hoodies and ten t-shirts? Maybe some of them could go in a box for the next refugees who arrive with only one change of clothes.
In New Zealand, contact the Red Cross Refugee Resettlement Service. Elsewhere, search online for who takes donations of goods for refugees.
Donate your time and services
Here’s a list of some things that businesses, groups and individuals are doing to support refugees in New Zealand, alongside the Red Cross:
- Crosspower Ministries Trust (Hope Centre Manukau) provides food and buckets full of household cleaning products on moving day in Auckland.
- Wellington International Airport gives our volunteers free parking at the airport on arrival day.
- Lower Hutt Food Bank, Wellington City Mission Food Bank, and Thorndon New World provide donations for welcome packs for new refugee families in Wellington.
- Coastal Quilters club in Porirua donates quilts to incoming families.
- Little Sprouts provide baby packs for babies up to the age of one in our new refugee families in Wellington.
- St Anne’s Church in Wellington and St Vincent de Paul’s in Manawatu assist with food parcels for newly arrived Refugee families.
- Catholic Church in Palmerston North provide donations towards a welcome bag for each refugee family arriving in the area.
- Olive Tree Church in Wellington and Palmerston North Fire Station provide subsidised venue hire for our orientation programmes, welcome dinner and volunteer training.
- Snapper donate free snapper travel cards to each newly arrived family in Wellington.
- Nelmac provides new families in Nelson with recycling bins.
[Read more at the Red Cross.]
Does anything spring to mind? What businesses and social groups are you a part of that might be able to contribute something?
Use your voice to influence powerful people
Here’s the big difference we can make, to more than one or two people: influence the leaders of your country to welcome more refugees.
Almost everywhere in the rich world, governments are reluctant to increase the numbers of refugees they take in. Let’s change that.
They’re only reluctant because they think we are. We need to make sure they know we want to help.
Germany has taken 800,000 refugees this year. New Zealand is planning on taking 750. No, not 750,000, just 750.
Making some noise really can make a difference. Check out what’s happening in Iceland:
Thousands of Icelanders have called on their government to take in more Syrian refugees – with many offering to accomodate them in their own homes and give them language lessons.
Iceland, which has a population of just over 300,000, has currently capped the number of refugees it accepts at 50.
Author and professor Bryndis Bjorgvinsdottir put out a call on Facebook on Sunday asking for Icelanders to speak out if they wanted the government to do more to help those fleeing Syria. More than 12,000 people have responded to her Facebook group “Syria is calling” to sign an open letter to their welfare minister, Eygló Harðar.
Iceland’s prime minister, Sigmundur Davíð Gunnlaugsson, said he was aware of increasing popular pressure to take in more refugees. “I assume that during Tuesday’s cabinet meeting I will propose the establishment of a special committee of ministers to discuss the problem and evaluate how Icelanders can respond, how we can contribute as much as possible,” he told RÚV.
“It has been our goal in international politics to be of help in as many areas as possible and this is one of the areas where the need is most right now.”
[Read more at the Guardian.]
You can read about the story of how an Acehnese community in Indonesia took in Rohingya refugees here.
Sign a petition
Here are some current petitions you can sign to add your voice to the growing cry for action (these links will only be live for a little while – if you’re reading this after September 2015, search online for relevant petitions if these don’t work):
Please add any others you know of in the comments below, okay?
Write to a representative
The next step after signing a petition is contacting a law-maker directly. Search online for the email address of your local Member of Parliament or equivalent (or see below for some countries’ links). Send a short email saying something like:
I know you, like me, must be horrified at the reports of so many refugees fleeing war and other disasters right now.
I want you to know that this is an issue I care about. I would support you in using your influence in Parliament to increase our refugee quota permanently, and take in an extra group in this current emergency. I support the Government spending the money required to do this well.
We are a lucky country and we need to extend our compassion to people who are not so fortunate.
I think this issue is so important that I will be voting in the next election with the various parties’ responses to the refugee crisis in mind.
There’s a handy tool here for contacting your local MP in the UK.
Here’s the list of senators and members in Australia.
Here’s how you find details for New Zealand MPs.
Go to a protest, and take some kids
Show your support publicly, in flesh and blood, by going to a rally or protest in your area in support of increasing the government response.
Volunteer to support refugees in your area
In New Zealand, after an initial period in the Mangere Refugee Centre, people are resettled in five areas of the country (Auckland, Waikato, Palmerston North, Wellington and Nelson), and supported by volunteers in the community for six months while they find their feet.
These volunteers – and I’ve been one myself – gather furniture, clothes and household goods from family, friends, churches and charity shops, to deck out a house for their new friends. They welcome them into town and help them navigate their first bus ride, first day at school, first trip to the doctor. They help and support them and they become mates.
You can read about my friends Sam and Laura and their experience of being refugee resettlement volunteers, when they themselves had small children, here:
The course ran for six weeks and then Laura and two other volunteers were placed with a Burmese family who had just finished their own six week stint of English language, life skills, and Aotearoa culture lessons at the Refugee Centre in Mangere, Auckland. The family she was placed with had three young children and had spent over ten years in a Displaced Peoples Camp in Thailand before finally being given the chance to come to New Zealand as refugees.
Over the next six months Laura visited the family most weeks, taking the boys along with her. She dragged me along too to help with some gardening and maintenance, and she roped in other friends and family to donate furniture, tools, clothing, bedding, etc. Laura helped the family to enrol their kids in school, sort out medical records, manage their finances, sign up at the library, use public transport, fill in WINZ forms, and go grocery shopping all without speaking more than a couple of words of each other’s language.
[Read more here.]
You can band together with a team of others to do this. At university I was part of a bunch of student friends who volunteered together to support a family from Somalia. Even if you couldn’t do this role alone, could you join with others to share the experience?
Click here to find out more for New Zealand. Search online for your local option elsewhere.
And look at this German town’s response to the arrival of refugees last week:
English language support
You may not be in a position to set up a household for someone, but another thing that almost anyone is qualified to do is be a friend to a new citizen.
Contact your local refugee resettlement agency and see if anyone needs a friend. Or join a conversational English class or group – lots of churches and community centres run them to be a conversation partner. It is absolutely guaranteed to enrich the lives of both parties.
In New Zealand you can even do a specific certificate in one-on-one English language tutoring aimed at community volunteers. Check out English Language Partners for an example.
This is the worst it’s been. But there have been millions and millions of refugees needing our help for decades – forever, really.
Maybe you and your household could read some books together, or watch some movies or YouTube clips on what it’s like to be a refugee. Maybe you could research the situation in Myanmar, or Syria, or Iraq, or Somalia and see what else your new awareness prompts you to do.
You might like to start with this TED Talk by Melissa Fleming of the United Nations refugee agency:
Or this four-minute video of what life is like for the Rohingya people in Myanmar, many of whom risk fleeing with people smugglers:
Some other resources to check out:
From a Christian perspective:
A Guardian article on the Christian response to the question, ‘how many should we take?’: ‘Every last one‘
Refugees Welcome: my post on the Australian and New Zealand positions and why we need to welcome more refugees.
Jesus was a refugee: an excellent, hard-hitting blog post by Craig Greenfield on a Christian response to refugees.
Learn all the basics at this United Nations page
Here are some things you will be hearing right now from people who feel unable to help – or don’t want to:
‘It’s such a big problem, nothing we can do will make a difference’
‘Our country can’t even take care of its own citizens, how can we take in more needy people?’
‘We can’t afford it’
‘Why don’t XYZ other countries do their bit?’
Here are some answers. Spread them around, and paste them in to your replies every time you see someone saying something like this online.
Can we afford it?
Will refugees be a drain on the economy?
The small Australian town of Nhill took in a bunch of refugees from Myanmar. Here’s what they found this act of hospitality did to the local economy:
A report commissioned by the resettlement agency Ames and undertaken by Deloitte Access Economics has found the resettlement of the refugees has created 70 full-time jobs, mainly in local poultry producer Luv-a-Duck.
“Fifty-four Karen are directly employed in Luv-a-Duck, and seven employed in businesses that supply Luv-a-Duck. Beyond this, the increased population has enabled the creation and filling of additional jobs across a number of broader community businesses and services,” the report said.
The creation of the jobs and the flow-on effects of having a larger population have resulted in a $41.5m boost to the economy, according to the report, which will be released on Friday.
“The resettlement of the Karen in Nhill has had a specific and sizeable economic impact on this agricultural town,” the director of Deloitte Access Economics, David Wright, said.
[Read more at the Guardian.]
And here’s more on the economic impact in the UK:
Government officials have claimed that it’s a better use of public funds to help abroad. But that’s completely wrong. If we let refugees in and allow them to work (as they would be keen to do), the evidence shows that the standard of living and unemployment rates for UK natives would remain about the same; the main effect is to radically increase the quality of life for the refugee. Compare the situation now to the Hungarian revolution of 1956: Austria, still broken from the second world war, took in 2% of its population in refugees, and emerged even stronger as a result. The UK could welcome hundreds of thousands of refugees to work here without damaging our economy.
[Read more at the Guardian.]
This piece by John Oliver is worth every minute, and covers some of the many benefits of welcoming refugees. Pass it on.
Why should we help when other countries aren’t?
My mother has a related question for you: if all your friends jumped off a bridge, would you?
We have to decide for ourselves what the right response is, not just do as little as the least active nation.
The widely held opinion that Saudi Arabia, the biggest of the Gulf nations, hasn’t taken in a single refugee may well be incorrect. Nabil Othman, acting regional representative to the Gulf region at the United Nations’ refugee agency, UNHCR, told Bloomberg there were 500,000 Syrians in that country. Saudi Arabia, like all of the Gulf states, is not a signatory to the UN refugee convention, so these displaced people are not officially designated as refugees.
There are reasons, however, why Saudi Arabia doesn’t let in more people and why the United Arab Emirates prefer to pay to equip and maintain refugee camps in other countries, close to Syrian borders.
An overwhelming majority of the displaced Syrians are Sunni Muslims. Of the paltry 1,519 Syrians the U.S. has taken in since 2011, 1,415 were Sunnis. The Saudi population is also predominantly Sunni. There’s a catch, however: Many Sunni areas of Syria have served as a base for the Islamic State, which the Saudi and U.A.E. air forces are helping to bomb. Islamic State is hostile to the Saudi regime, and it’s important to them whether the refugees are fleeing Islamic State or the bombings.
[Read more at Bloomberg.]
Right now Syrian refugees are in the news so the spotlight is on the Middle East, but last month it was Rohingya refugees fleeing Myanmar, and the response of South East Asian nations. New Zealand is one of the few nations that is unlikely to be directly inundated by asylum seekers, but pretty much everywhere else in the world – your turn will come. Whether we should respond can’t just be about proximity.
At the moment one in five people in Lebanon is a refugee. They’ve taken in over a million refugees – can you imagine? Pakistan has another million refugees. These are not the best-equipped nations to take in refugees, they’re just the closest.
The whole point of the United Nations refugee system is to share the burden worldwide. Wherever we are, we can do our part. Currently, New Zealand is languishing near the bottom of the table of generous hosts.
We can’t make enough difference to be worth acting
Every life matters. If you can save one life, why would you choose not to?
And have you read the classic story of the boy throwing starfish back into the ocean?
We shouldn’t take in foreigners when our own people are suffering
As I’ve said, Pakistan and Lebanon are among the most generous hosts of refugees, and it’s not because they’re wealthy countries.
But the main thing about this objection is that it sets up a false dichotomy. It’s not a case of either us or them. We can do both.
There’s no reason that supporting a few hundred or a few thousand more refugees needs to make us any less active in serving the poor locally.
Also, as actor Michael Sheen said yesterday on Twitter:
That rings true to me. So perhaps next time someone starts that line of argument, I’ll ask them just what they are currently doing that they will be unable to do if the country takes in more refugees.
Put faces to the numbers
There have been some excellent profiles of individual refugees in the media lately. Follow Humans of New York, travelling in Europe, and check these stories out:
And here is one of the most affecting things I’ve read this month, the poem ‘Home’ by Somali refugee, now British citizen, Warsan Shire, which you may well have seen quoted on social media:
no one leaves home unless
home is the mouth of a shark
you only run for the border
when you see the whole city running as well
your neighbours running faster than you
breath bloody in their throats
the boy you went to school with
who kissed you dizzy behind the old tin factory
is holding a gun bigger than his body
you only leave home
when home won’t let you stay.
no one leaves home unless home chases you
fire under feet
hot blood in your belly
it’s not something you ever thought of doing
until the blade burnt threats into
and even then you carried the anthem under
only tearing up your passport in an airport toilets
sobbing as each mouthful of paper
made it clear that you wouldn’t be going back.
you have to understand,
that no one puts their children in a boat
unless the water is safer than the land
no one burns their palms
no one spends days and nights in the stomach of a truck
feeding on newspaper unless the miles travelled
means something more than journey.
no one crawls under fences
no one wants to be beaten
no one chooses refugee camps
or strip searches where your
body is left aching
because prison is safer
than a city of fire
and one prison guard
in the night
is better than a truckload
of men who look like your father
no one could take it
no one could stomach it
no one skin would be tough enough
go home blacks
sucking our country dry
niggers with their hands out
they smell strange
messed up their country and now they want
to mess ours up
how do the words
the dirty looks
roll off your backs
maybe because the blow is softer
than a limb torn off
or the words are more tender
than fourteen men between
or the insults are easier
than your child body
i want to go home,
but home is the mouth of a shark
home is the barrel of the gun
and no one would leave home
unless home chased you to the shore
unless home told you
to quicken your legs
leave your clothes behind
crawl through the desert
wade through the oceans
your survival is more important
no one leaves home until home is a sweaty voice in your ear
run away from me now
i dont know what i’ve become
but i know that anywhere
is safer than here.
Fill your social media feeds with change-makers
Does your Facebook newsfeed show you celebrity gossip or politics? It’s all down to what you ‘like’.
For any social media platform you’re on, you can connect up with some of the agencies mentioned throughout this post – they’ll all be there.
Keep social justice and important issues at the front of your mind by having them flow through your social networks.
Just for some examples, why not go and ‘like’ these Pages on Facebook (and go to the pages and tick ‘get notifications’ so you won’t miss their stuff)?
Sacraparental – you won’t regret it!
Doing our bit (NZ refugee lobby group)
Be a peace-maker and change-bringer in other areas of your life
Please, let this current crisis and all its horrors inspire you and your household to bring more peace to the world in your everyday life.
Make life better for women and girls with these eight ideas.
Check out my list of six ways kids can change the world, in meaningful, substantial ways.
Act locally to make your community a better place. See the list at the end of this post for ideas of things you and your household could join in with.
If you decide to only buy clothes and other products that are fairtrade, you can help millions of workers in slavery-like conditions find freedom with a living wage and a safe workplace. For more about this issue, muka kids is the place to start:
Some other things to consider:
Learn to be a better listener and better friend
For birthdays and Christmas, etc, give presents that make the world a better place
And what else? Please add your ideas in the comments below.
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