Ways to Help Refugees
Thanks to President Donald J. Trump’s executive orders to cut the number of people who can come to the United States, the work of refugee aid organizations and the confusion grow by the hour on some days. So I gathered information for people who want to help refugees already in the United States.
How the System Works
Once the federal government has screened and cleared refugees, one of nine nonprofit organizations helps process them. Those organizations work with a group of more than 300 local and regional agencies and offices that help settle refugees in.
Donating Money to the Agencies
People could donate directly to any or all of the nine organizations. Or they could find the group that is closest to them and try to donate there.
But because the part of Mr. Trump’s order that reduces total 2017 refugee admissions to 50,000 from 110,000 still stands, some local agencies may not be working with any refugees this year.
So the Refugee Council USA has stepped into that redistribution role. It is an advocacy group that includes among its members those nine primary nonprofits that help settle refugees.
Channeling Money and Goods To Individuals
The agencies that work with refugees have access to some federal funds and other money to help get them settled, but the money doesn’t stretch far. So some volunteers partner with those agencies to buy supplies. DonorsChoose.org, a nonprofit, has set up a list of projects that public school teachers have posted that will help refugees and other immigrants in their classrooms. It encourages other teachers to add more. Crowdfunding sites like Crowdrise, GoFundMe and Razoo all have scores of projects that individuals and nonprofits have posted. And a site called Humanwire registers refugees and recruits fund-raising captains, then pairs them up.
Be a Volunteer
New arrivals need help figuring out day-to-day things, like how the Department of Motor Vehicles works and how to open a bank account.
People with specialized skills or resources should let local agencies know. Good landlords are rare and in demand. People with language skills can volunteer as translators. Employers can offer jobs. And English as a second language tutors are often in demand.
The Refugee Center has its own online directory of local organizations that may need volunteers.
Be a Host (and a Guest)
“Coming here is very lonely, and having a friend locally who will have you for dinner or you can have, that is a big thing,” said Becca Heller, director of the International Refugee Assistance Project. “Many people just want to cook a huge meal for you.”
Teenagers Can Help, Too
Some young adults in schools with refugees have taken matters into their own hands. Peyton Klein, a 15-year-old ninth-grader in Pittsburgh, was inspired to act when she saw how a classmate from Syria was struggling to communicate with their teacher. Peyton started a group called Global Minds to address a range of issues. “The whole world is literally in our backyards at this school,” she said. “We don’t define anyone as a volunteer. They teach us about culture and the world, and the native English speakers help with conversational English and homework.”
Be an Advocate
Nearly everyone I’ve spoken to on the topic is thrilled to have every last dollar and hour of volunteer labor. But they also asked that those who disagree with the cap on refugees make their feelings known to their elected representatives. The money and time go only so far, they said, if the country bars desperate people from coming in the first place.
NEW NEIGHBORS New arrivals need help figuring out day-to-day things, like how the Department of Motor Vehicles works and how to open a bank account. Zainab Ando, 21, a Syrian refugee, practiced interviewing for a job in Lowell, Mass.