How To Help Refugees: A Very Practical Guide

06/26/2017 08:44 am ET Updated Jun 26, 2017

You want to #resist? Helping refugees means helping refugees, you know, talk the talk not just walk the walk. And not just on weekends. Here’s some of what you can do. Start By Understanding the Multi-Organizational Refugee Process

The American refugee acceptance, qualification, and resettlement process is a tangle of the United Nations, at least three different agencies of the U.S. government, and multiple nongovernmental organizations. You can’t speak to others, advocate, interact emphatically with refugees, or decide where to devote your volunteer time or money without understanding how this works. Start here.

Find Out Why Your State Does Not Accept More Refugees

As for advocacy, ask why your state does not resettle more refugees. While states are not allowed to turn away refugees who wish to live there, 30 American governors said they’d refuse to accept Syrian refugees into their states if they somehow could.

Just ten states resettled more than half of recent refugees to U.S. Arkansas, the District of Columbia and Wyoming resettled fewer than ten refugees each, while two states – Delaware and Hawaii – took in none.

A significant issue is that people are afraid. Understand the vetting process so you can talk to them. Explain how this process has been in place for a long period of time. Marches and demonstrations are never a bad thing, but to affect real change you must reach out to people who disagree with you. Look for opportunities to talk to groups that are not on your side.

Strongly consider fact-based arguments and not emotional appeals. There is an extraordinary amount of inaccurate information out there, from purposeful hate and fear mongering, to well-meaning people making dumb mistakes. Everyone’s heard the poem on the side of the Statue of Liberty; try another path to persuade people. For example, for those concerned about the cost to taxpayers, after no more than 180 days, financial assistance from federal agencies stops and refugees are expected to become self-sufficient.

See if your local schools will allow refugees to speak about their home country. People are less fearful and more accepting of those they know better. You can say you hate Syrians; it’s harder to say you hate Mrs. Aswad who spoke to your son’s social studies class.

Volunteer Locally to Resettle Refugees

Once a refugee arrives in the United States, a process called resettlement begins.

In the U.S., the International Organization for Migration and U.S. Office of Refugee Resettlement work with voluntary agencies like the International Rescue Committee, Church World Service and others to resettle refugees. These voluntary agencies have offices across the country. For example, Church World Service has resettlement programs in 21 states, while the International Rescue Committee has programs in 15.

From there, local nonprofit ethnic associations and church-based groups help refugees learn English and job skills. All of these nonprofits need volunteers. Here’s a list to get you started.

Here are some examples of what volunteers do. It could be something as simple as helping kids register for school.

Some organizations may offer, or be willing to start offering, internships for students to bring in more help. Check if your school is willing to offer credit.

Finding Work

If you or your organization can offer refugees a job, contact a local resettlement group.

Consider canvassing businesses to see if any of their employment needs can be filled by a refugee. Refugees bring a variety of skills with them. Speak with local resettlement groups and see if you can offer “matchmaking” assistance.

Check with colleges and universities about available scholarships, or free classes.

For persons who cannot work, consider volunteer activities to help them build skills or a resume.

Support businesses that employ refugees, and stay away from ones who explicitly do not. If you shop at businesses that employ a lot of refugees or immigrants who work primarily for tips (The people who deliver food to you? Drive your Uber?), tip generously. You can literally put money into the hand of someone who can use it.

Know Your History

Despite the lofty and idealized rhetoric surrounding refugee admissions, the United States is quite stingy in the number of people it accepts. Knowing history makes you a more credible speaker and educator.

America sets an annual ceiling on refugees; for FY 2016 it was 85,000. Refugee number 85,001, no matter how desperate, waits until next year. Go back to 2006, and the ceiling was 70,000 (though less than 50,000were actually admitted). Since 1980, the United States has accepted fewer than two million refugees overall, and 40 percent of those were children who accompanied or joined their refugee parent(s). By contrast, though not limited to refugees, the Obama administration deported 2.5 million people in just eight years.

The FY2016 American quota for Syrian refugees was 10,000. In contrast, among Syrians alone, Canada in 2016 took in 25,000. Germany admitted 300,000 refugees from various nations in 2016, following close to one million in 2015.

Careful about being an amateur lawyer; preserve your credibility. 8 U.S.C. 1152 Sec. 202(a)(1)(A) makes it unlawful to ban immigrants (Legal Permanent Residents, green card holders) because of “nationality, place of birth, or place of residence.” The law however is silent on banning refugees for those same reasons.

Inclusion of links does not imply endorsement. Exclusion of any organization implies nothing negative. Do your own research before making any donations or volunteering in any way.

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