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.

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