Want to show solidarity with the world's refugees, but not sure how? Your computer, tablet, or phone could be a pretty good place to start.
There are over 65 million people worldwide who are currently displaced due to conflict, persecution or natural disasters - that’s more than the population of the whole of the UK.
But while the scale of the situation seems overwhelming, there are a huge number of online platforms that make it easier than ever to stay informed and get active.
1. Get Informed
What's the difference between a migrant and a refugee? What does IDP stand for? Why do people leave their homes? And where are the world's refugees ending up? There is a whole wealth of educational materials online that can inform and empower.
The website of the UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees) offers reliable, verifiable, up-to-date and easily comprehensible facts and figures about the flow of refugees, including information on where the majority of people come from (Syria, Afghanistan, South Sudan) and where they end up (Turkey, Lebanon and Pakistan - none of the top 6 hosting countries are in the EU). Their approximately 11,000 staff also maintain a fascinating data portal with information on current emergencies, updated daily, that makes the issues even more visible and tangible on a global scale.
© UNHCR The UNHCR website gives a clear and verifiable overview of the latest facts and figures on refugee flows around the world.
There are several interactive online games that let you experience what it’s like to be in a refugee's shoes. In Play Against All Odds, participants are taken on an asylum-seeker's journey and experience the issues and the emotions that arise from the minute they realise that they are no longer safe in their own country.
My Life as a Refugee and the BBC’s Syrian Journey are both a sort of “choose your own adventure” story that help to understand the real dilemmas that refugees face and how precarious and uncertain their futures can be.
And once you've got all that information, what can you do with it? Pass it on. The UNHCR has a great Teacher's Toolkit with posters, infographics and videos that definitely don't have to stay confined to a classroom.
2. Make a Donation
There are a huge number of NGOs working to help ease the plight of refugees from around the world, and donations are the best way of ensuring their skilled workers can help people on the ground. All you need is a credit card and an internet connection to make a difference.
You can choose whether to send your money to a large organisation such as the Red Cross Europe, the International Rescue Committee, or Médecins Sans Frontières, or a smaller, more grassroots organisation.
Just a small online donation can make a big difference to a grassroots NGO.
Some of our favourites include the platform REFUNITE, which is the world's largest missing persons network for displaced people and refugees and helps people reunite with their lost loved ones. Another one is Kiron, a Berlin-based NGO which offers refugees around the world a pathway to an academic degree through clever digital solutions and partnerships with universities. You can donate to their Betterplace campaign by clicking here.
The website NeedsList has a different approach - it's an online marketplace where groups that are working directly with displaced people can list their most urgent needs, whether it's sleeping bags, winter shoes or toys and books. Donors (both individuals and corporations) can respond right away by purchasing goods directly from local suppliers via NeedsList, donating funds, or even completing tasks.
And last but not least, Choose Love is an online shop with a unique concept. Created by the charity Help Refugees (which also accepts donations), its the first ever online store to sell "real projects for refugees". It stocks items ranging from groceries (costing around 5 EUR) to mobile phones (70 EUR) and psychosocial support (around 60 EUR).
© Choose.Love Purchases made on the Choose.Love shop go towards supplying a similar item to a refugee in Europe or the Middle East
The top-down photos of the products give buyers an instant understanding of what their money is going towards, and the purchase price of each product is used to buy, transport and distribute a similar item at one of the 80 refugee projects they operate in Europe and the Middle East. If you want, you can request that they get in touch afterwards to confirm how your donation ended up being used and the impact it made. You can even download a gift card after you buy, which you can print at home, instantly turning your donation into a charity gift.
3. Offer Your Home And/Or Your Dinner Table
The Refugees Welcome initiative started in Germany but has since spread throughout Europe. Basically an Airbnb for refugees, it matches people with a spare room with refugees who need a place to sleep. The organisation helps participants cover overheads like rent and extra utlities via donations. So if you don't have a bed going spare, you can help other people do so by donating to their online funding campaigns instead.
Refugees Welcome ♥ and United Invitations are both dinner projects that bring together refugees and non-refugees to "break bread and break barriers". Anyone is welcome to host a dinner – individuals, groups of friends, organizations or businesses, and there are groups active throughout Europe. Check out their websites for more information on how to get involved.
4. Provide Employment Opportunities
Refugees' academic achievements often aren't recognised in their new countries, meaning that they're forced to seek alternative employment at first. And many times, they're not allowed to work at all because of employment and visa restrictions. There are a few initiatives working to tackle that very problem.
RefugeesWork is an online job site that aims to set new arrivals up as budding entrepreneurs: supporting them with bureacratic issues such as bank accounts and tax issues, connecting them with clients who need freelance workers and developing their skills. Both refugees and employers can sign up on the site.
Tirachard Kumtanom Language-teaching via the so-called "gig economy" can be a practical short-term solution for refugees.
NaTakallam ('We Speak' in Arabic) connects Arabic learners with native speakers (normally Syrian refugees and other displaced people) for paid language lessons via Skype. The social enterprise Chatterbox has a similar USP, training up refugees to become language teachers and then connecting them with students both on- and offline.
5. Volunteer Your Time
If you speak more than one language, you can volunteer as a translator from the comfort of your own home with Tarjimly, a chat bot that works via facebook and facilitates connections between bilingual volunteer translators and refugees and/or aid workers. You can sign up right here, no strings attached.
© Tarjimly Tarjimly instantly connects you with refugees so you can help them with translations.
The UN also has a comprehensive online volunteering portal, where you can find flexible projects that reach from translation, writing and design to tech development and research, some of which touch on topics such as migration and asylum.
Still in development, but coming soon and sounding pretty promising, TimePeace is a mobile app that offers a platform where locals can come together with refugees and asylum seekers to share skills. It's set to be a safe space where people with similar passions can be brought together - tackling isolation and helping develop peoples' professional skills.
And before you do any kind of volunteering, it might be worth checking out this free course on "Volunteering with Refugees" from FutureLearn. It's designed for people currently volunteering with refugees, and those just about to start, and includes information on linguistic and cultural differences, as well as understanding and working with trauma.
Author: Marisa Pettit (January 2018)
For even more inspiration and insights about refugee aid in the digital age, check out our RESET Special: Refugee Aid 2.0.