life buoy

Deeds not words: Charities step up to the refugee crisis

By Marini Thorne 15 September 2015

The tragic death of Aylan Kurdi this month—and the harrowing photos published around the world—represents the apex of the long-emerging refugee crisis on Europe’s borders. The consequent public outcry has forced Europe’s leaders into action (and the debate around the efficacy of this action rages on). It has also offered individuals and charities a chance to collaborate on enacting their own solutions.

While some of these efforts are firmly on the eccentric side (one well-wishing philanthropist offered to donate an island to house refugees), charities undoubtedly have varied and vital roles to play in the months ahead. On an immediate level, there are dozens of simple ways in which people can get involved. Throughout the summer, thousands of people in the UK have been donating goods to bring urgently needed supplies to Calais’ refugee camps. Indeed, many community groups across Europe have themselves been making trips across the Channel. Whether through activism or donation, everyone can have an impact.

Some charities focus on a refugee’s journey after their arrival in a new country, and initiatives to help integrate refugees into UK society essential. One such organisation in London is RAMFEL (Refugee and Migrant Forum for Essex and London) which provides advice on asylum and immigration, benefits and housing—subjects of great importance to anyone struggling in their first months in a new country. It’s intensive work: RAMFEL focuses in part on lobbying local government about its responsibilities, which can be a thankless task.

There are less onerous ways to get involved. Online activism and petitions are one easy but important way—encouraging politicians at both national and local level to re-think their approach to the crisis. Citizens UK and Avaaz have been running campaigns to persuade local councils and residents to offer sanctuary to refugees arriving in Europe. Thousands of people have signed up to these local petitions so far and a number of councils in the UK, including Kingston, Birmingham and Edinburgh, have agreed to take up to 50 refugees each.

The important role for local authorities can be seen in Bristol. Its City of Sanctuary initiative has created a growing network of local organisations which aim to welcome migrants to the city and support their integration. Since the media coverage last week, one City of Sanctuary organisation reported an additional 200 volunteers at their workshops. City of Sanctuary initiatives are dotted throughout the country, and can be great ways to find out about donating time or money near you.

Campaigning charities can also change the discussions which take place around immigration, and try to ensure that a debate which is often toxic is kept as level-headed and practical as possible.

The Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants, for example, campaigns hard for justice in immigration, nationality and refugee law and policy. Similarly, Migrant Voice aims to take on a system that can leave migrants voiceless in the media by speaking out about the issues faced by those newly arrived into this country.

The current refugee crisis is, it seems, on a scale much greater than most people had previously imagined. The challenge to civil society is substantial, but there are already organisations out there trying to address these issues at every level.

A version of this blog was first published by Spears Magazine as part of our philanthropy series.