Last month, President Trump issued an executive order affecting refugees in two important ways:
- He banned refugees from any country from entering the US for 120 days (so until late May 2017).
- He banned refugees from Syria from entering the US indefinitely.
Refugees are people fleeing war, violence or religious persecution. While some are eventually able to go home or are resettled in host countries, millions—21.3 million currently according to the UNHCR—live for years in limbo in refugee camps or other “temporary” shelter.
While the American courts decide the fate of President Trump’s ban, here are donation-worthy nonprofits helping refugees right now:
Serving the needs of refugees in transit and in camps
Migrant Offshore Aid Station (MOAS) is focused on rescuing migrants at sea. A Malta-based foundation, MOAS performs search and rescue operations of refugees and migrants making their way across the Mediterranean, Aegean and Andaman seas. Since their founding in 2013, MOAS says it has rescued over 33,000 people.
Quick note: because this nonprofit is based in Malta, donations to them are likely not tax-deductible in the US or UK. Double check with your accountant if you plan to itemize your returns.
Handicap International helps people with physical handicaps in conflict and disaster zones. In places like Syria, they try to ensure refugee camps are handicap accessible and inclusive of people with physical disabilities. In the DRC, where violence has left many with very visible scars, Handicap International’s staff provide physical and orthopedic therapy to refugees living with new artificial limbs.
Advocating for refugees in transit, in camps and in host countries
Asylum Access is a California-based nonprofit that works to improve the lives of refugees in the countries where they’ve sought asylum. In many cases, this means helping refugees gain the right to work, attend school and access local health care while they wait to either return home or be resettled in a host country.
HIAS—formerly Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society—is an American Jewish charity that gives legal aid to refugees trying to resettle in a host country. HIAS also advocates internationally for universal refugee rights, like the right to work and go to school.
Working specifically with Syrian refugees
Doctors Without Borders, or Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) is a large international medical nonprofit that treats people in conflict and other situations of extreme need. The research-based charity evaluator, Give Well, has long favored MSF because of the organization’s robust commitment to transparency in their ways of working.
In Syria, MSF operates 6 health facilities in the north of the country, and deploys mobile medical teams elsewhere. MSF supplies equipment to hospitals throughout the region and works to ensure general public health is preserved by providing regular vaccines to Syrian children, for example.
Mercy Corps is another well-regarded international nonprofit that is working in Syrian refugee camps, specifically with children and adolescents. The organization is building playgrounds, sports fields and safe spaces for refugee children to play in Jordan and Iraq. They also run programs to help kids process their trauma and integrate into their host communities.
Why I don’t recommend giving to UN agencies…
The UNHCR, Unicef and various other UN agencies are heavily involved in refugee work—and the work they do is critical. But these organizations are also massive bureaucracies that contract out much of their work to nonprofits like the ones listed above. So to ensure the largest chunk of your donation reaches people on the ground, skip the UN agencies and give directly to the nonprofits whose missions—and strategies—you believe in.
Finally, consider a good read with your donation
News stories and nonprofit websites can only go so far in describing the plight of refugees. To learn more about the people who make it to refugee camps, pick up a copy of City of Thorns by Ben Rawlence. The book tells the stories of nine refugees living in the world’s largest refugee camp in Kenya. It’s engaging and descriptive of the desperation and myriad challenges faced by refugees. And it gives an enlightening perspective of international aid from the perspective of refugees.
I am passionate about helping people become informed, empowered and enthusiastic donors. After more than 10 years in the nonprofit/charity sector, I embraced my fear of spreadsheets and got an MBA so that I could help citizens like myself become more strategic givers. Today, I use my unique experiences in both sectors to help people who care deeply about using their money to make the world a better place.