Relief in Syria: How You Can Get Involved
The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA) reports that over half of the Syrian population has been displaced as result of the Syrian civil war[i]. The Civil War has resulted in approximately 13.5 million Syrians in need of humanitarian aid;[ii] 5.3 million of those children[iii] and 4.9 million individuals trapped in difficult to access locations. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) highlights that 4.8 million people have fled to Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Egypt and Iraq.[iv] The reality for many Syrians is one of terror, deprivation and survival.[v]
Loss of life, injury, displacement, and damage to critical institutions (i.e. hospitals and schools) have also impacted the ability of United Nations agencies and other service providers to deliver life-saving humanitarian aid.[vi] Despite the ongoing Civil War, relief organizations continue to operate and provide lifesaving assistance to Syrians in conflict zones as well as those who are displaced. As observers to this crisis, it is easy to feel disconnected or overwhelmed and to think that helping is inconsequential. However, it is important to know that there are many ways to be involved and to provide assistance for those in need. This blog provides suggestions and ways to assist those affected by the Syrian conflict and how to stay engaged with the global refugee crisis.
International Opportunities to Assist
Syrians affected by the ongoing civil war depend upon humanitarian aid for food, clothing and shelter. Direct opportunities in Syria are limited and often available only to those having specific skills and who speak a foreign language. However, donations are a great way to support international aid organizations that operate within conflict zones. A good way to search for highly rated charities and non-governmental organizations is through the website Charity Navigator[vii], which is an independent charity watchdog that evaluates charitable organizations in the US. Depending on the scope of your intended donation, investing time into researching organizations that operate in Syria or those that assist Syrian refugees is vital in selecting who to donate to. Some organizations provide advocacy and technical expertise for children education in Syria, others focus on empowering women and building strong families and communities, some provide and prevent awareness of early marriage, while others deliver humanitarian relief by providing tents, water filters, stoves and blankets in emergency situations. Donations to your organization of choice can also be completed individually, by a group of friends, or with a community of individuals. Social media platforms are a great way to amplify the ability to raise your monetary contribution and to advocate for awareness to your cause.
Domestic Opportunities to Help
For those interested in providing direct assistance, consider volunteering, donating or being involved in organizations that support refugees in the US. Those interested in providing help specifically to resettled Syrian refugees should also consider assisting refugees from other countries too, as the US has resettled 49 Syrian refugees during the 2018 fiscal year – a sharp decrease of 6,557 from the previous year[viii]. Helping refugees domestically is a great way to provide solidarity and awareness of the global refugee crisis.
A good way to begin your search is by identifying opportunities in your state through the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) website. ORR provides a list of Voluntary Agencies (VOLAG) that provides reception and placement services for refugees arriving in the US. Volunteer opportunities can usually be found in each VOLAG’s website. Opportunities are varied and depend on the need of each VOLAG. They are also invaluable to the refugees they assist. Some volunteer opportunities include: being an English to Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) teacher, managing and sorting donations for refugees, volunteering as a gardener for a public garden, being a cultural orientation volunteer teacher, or being an education support volunteer. Many agencies are especially interested in volunteers who are bilingual and bicultural and who can speak the same language the refugees speak.
Helping domestically can also include volunteering in relief agencies located in your state. This can also be initiated by looking at the website of your favorite aid agency and by looking at available volunteer opportunities. Oftentimes, volunteers provide support for annual agency events, data entry for epidemiological studies (depending on volunteer’s skills), and/or track and process invoices in their marketing department. Regardless of what domestic opportunities are available, volunteering requires a time commitment. Volunteering is often rewarding both for the individual who volunteers and is greatly appreciated by the agency.
Staying Informed, Dispelling Myths and Advocating for Refugees
Being aware and informed of the Syrian conflict and the greater refugee crisis is vital to staying engaged. Knowing the facts is especially valuable in a hyper-partisan political climate and with the spread of fake news. This can be accomplished by reading and listening to a variety of reputable agencies and news organizations and understanding that the crisis is multi-dimensional. The personal stories of refugees are vital in understanding the crisis – but so is the perspective of host nations and non-governmental agencies too.
Being informed is a great way to dispel myths surrounding refugees. Common myths of US refugee admission include that most refugees are men, pose a security threat, and are a drain to society. In fact, more than half of the world’s refugees are children, are subject to scrutiny above and beyond any other group entering the US, quickly commence work in their host country upon resettlement, stimulate local economies, and pay taxes[ix].
Being informed and knowing the difference between myth or fact is an important step in advocating for refugees; as dispelling myths among family, friends, and acquaintances provides a building block to engage the community and to inform them of the global refugee crisis and the plight of those affected.
Why Getting Involved Matters
In its seventh year, the Syrian crisis has no immediate end in sight. The UNHCR defines a protracted refugee situation as a group of individuals from the same nationality that have been exiled from their country of origin for five years or more[x]. The average length of protracted refugee situations is 26 years[xi]. Volunteering any amount of one’s personal time and professional expertise provides valuable resources and respite to this vulnerable population – it is also an honorable way to show your solidarity with refugees. Staying engaged and being aware of the Syrian crisis is important in making sure this crisis – as well as the global refugee crisis – is not forgotten.
Claudia WalD, MSW
*edits/revisions provided by Adam Brooks
[i] United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. About OCHA Syria, 2018 [Internet]. [cited 2018 August 10] Available from: https://www.unocha.org/syrian-arab-republic/about-ocha-syria
[ii] Migration Policy Center. A snapshot of the crisis – in the Middle East and Europe, 2018 [Internet]. [cited 2018 May 10]. Available at: http://syrianrefugees.eu/
[iii]UNICEF. Syria Crisis Humanitarian Results Situation Report, 2018 [Internet]. [cited 2018 May 5]. Available from: https://reliefweb.int/report/syrian-arab-republic/unicef-syria-crisis-situation-report-january-2018-humanitarian-results
[iv] Migration Policy Center. A snapshot of the crisis – in the Middle East and Europe, 2018 [Internet]. [cited 2018 May 10]. Available at: http://syrianrefugees.eu/
[v] Médecins Sans Frontières. International Activity Report, 2016 [Internet]. [cited 2018 May 1] Available from: https://www.doctorswithoutborders.org/country-region/syria
[vi] UNICEF. Syria Crisis Humanitarian Results Situation Report, 2018 [Internet]. [cited 2018 May 5]. Available from: https://reliefweb.int/report/syrian-arab-republic/unicef-syria-crisis-situation-report-january-2018-humanitarian-results
[vii] Charity navigator. Syrian Crisis [Internet]. [cited 2018 May 6]. Available from: https://www.charitynavigator.org/index.cfm?bay=content.view&cpid=1523
[viii] NPR. U.S. Refugee Program ‘In Danger’ Amid Steep Drop in Refugee Arrivals, Advocates Warm. [Internet]. [cited 2018 July 30]. Available from https://www.npr.org/2018/07/24/630907144/u-s-refugee-program-in-danger-amid-steep-drop-in-refugee-arrivals-advocates-warn
[ix] International Rescue Committee. Seven common myths about refugee resettlement in the United States. [Internet]. [cited 2018 July 2]. Available from: https://www.rescue.org/article/seven-common-myths-about-refugee-resettlement-united-states
[x] UNHCR. Protracted Refugee Situations [Internet]. [cited 2018 July 30]. Available from: http://www.unhcr.org/en-us/excom/standcom/40c982172/protracted-refugee-situations.html
[xi] U.S. Department of State. Protracted Refugee Situations. [Internet]. [cited 2018 July 30]. Available from: https://www.state.gov/j/prm/policyissues/issues/protracted/