Saturday, September 23, 2023

The best ways to help all refugees — from Ukraine and beyond

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Shreya Christina
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The war in Ukraine has caught the attention of the world, and that is as it should be. The devastation is tragic and it is heartwarming to see that governments and ordinary citizens are genuinely interested in Ukrainian refugees and are generously giving to help them.

At the same time, we must ask ourselves why we are not just as thoughtful and altruistic towards other refugees around the world in equally desperate circumstances. Many of us donate time, money and even Airbnb to help Ukrainians – but how many of us have done the same for refugees from IraqMyanmarSouthern SudanYemen

“There has been a lot of focus and compassion for Ukrainian refugees and it is in stark contrast to other groups,” said Lamis Abdelaaty, a political scientist at Syracuse University who studies why the world treats some refugees better than others. “First of all, it has to do with the identity of the people fleeing Ukraine. They are seen as white and Christian. People tend to empathize with refugees who they think share their identity.”

You may have seen discrimination based on race and religion creep into the media. Take, for example, NBC News correspondent Kelly Cobiella, who: said that “these are not refugees from Syria, these are refugees from Ukraine. … They are Christian, they are white, they are very similar.”

People who arrived by train from Ukraine queue up to buy tickets at a train station in Poland on February 28, 2022.
Beata Zawrzel/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Or take CBS senior correspondent Charlie D’Agata, who… said in Kiev that ‘this is not a place, with all due respect, like Iraq or Afghanistan. … This is a relatively civilized, relatively European – I have to choose those words carefully too – city where you wouldn’t expect that.”

Foreign policy is also a notable factor, as is justified moral outrage at the invasion of one country by another. “It is important that Ukrainians are fleeing an invasion by Russia,” Abdelaaty said. “Being especially attuned to them and welcoming them is a powerful way to condemn this aggression… to send a signal that you are on the side of democracy.” Both governments and ordinary citizens have the chance to position themselves in a satisfying story: in line with the hero, fighting the obvious villain.

Nevertheless, Abdelaaty told me: “I hope this crisis will cause people to think deeply about why they have more empathy for certain people than for others, and make people see that all refugees deserve our compassion.”

The myth of the “deserved” refugee

The number of forcibly displaced people in the world is at an all-time high – 84 million according to last year’s census, more than the entire population of Germany, and more than double the number ten years ago. They flee their homes for reasons ranging from human rights violations (like in Afghanistan) to famines and floods caused by climate change (like in South Sudan

But depending on who these displaced people are and where they come from, the world tends to look at them very differently.

The graphs show the funding gaps of the main UNHCR situations and the highest displaced population by nationality

Youyou Zhou/cafemadrid

“There is a dichotomy that is drawn between the ‘deserving’ refugee and the ‘undeserving’ migrant,” Abdelaaty said.

According to the 1951 Refugee Convention, ratified when the world was still dealing with millions of people displaced during World War II, a refugee is someone who is fleeing persecution targeting them as individuals based on their race, religion or political views. In fact, most Ukrainians would not qualify for refugee status because they are fleeing general violence, rather than being specifically targeted by one of those criteria, Abdelaaaty explained.

Yet governments and the media were quick to brand them refugees – in stark contrast to the response in 2015, when a… a lot of hand wringing on whether to call people arriving in Europe ‘refugees’ or ‘migrants’. The use of the term ‘migrants’ to describe Syrians probably had a negative impact about public opinion about them.

Even now, Middle Easterners coming to Europe suffer from a double standard. Nowhere is this more evident today than in Poland. Ukrainians are welcomed with open arms at that country’s border with Ukraine. Meanwhile, on Poland’s border with Belarus, Syrians, Iraqis and Afghans have been strongly held out† Poland is even building a $400 Million Wall to ward them off.

Afghans were stranded on the border between Belarus and Poland in 2021.
Wojtek Radwanski/AFP via Getty Images

“The fact that Ukrainians are labeled as refugees means for many people that they deserve it, because they are forced to relocate. While in popular parlance people who are migrants choose to move and therefore do not deserve our sympathy,” Abdelaaty said. “But I would urge people to consider whether people who are moving because they are fleeing crushing poverty or the effects of climate change deserve our sympathy. I would say no.”

How you can effectively help refugees

All refugees need support, and most refugee crises are underfunded – especially those who have fallen out of the media spotlight or never captured it to begin with.

Before the war in Ukraine, 85 percent of the world’s refugees lived in low- and middle-income countries, often in much greater numbers than in rich countries. For example, Turkey still hosts 3.6 million Syrian refugees. (The US, on the other hand settled less than 12,000 refugees all in all in fiscal year 2020.) These countries often lack the resources to support their own people, let alone millions of newcomers.

That’s why Helen Dempster, a deputy director of the Center for Global Development, says: “Countries bordering Ukraine, such as Poland, certainly need support, although I wouldn’t argue as much support as those low- and middle-income countries that have been around for years or decades. receive refugees.”

UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, annually compiles a list of the most financially neglected crises. Here is the most recent list:

The graphs show the funding gaps of the main UNHCR situations and the highest displaced population by nationality

Youyou Zhou/cafemadrid

So how can you help people in these crises?

First of all, you can donate to organizations that do effective, transparent and responsible work. Abdelaaty and Dempster recommended several options:

  • To support refugees and host communities on the ground, you can donate to organizations such as the International Rescue CommitteeUNHCROxfamand Doctors Without Borders† It is best if you give an unlimited donation so that your money can be used where and when it is needed most.
  • If you really want to support people in a specific crisis, you can donate money directly to affected people via Give directly or to vetted local organizations via GlobalGive† (Disclosure: I donated to GiveDirectly in 2021.)
  • To support systemic policy change that benefits refugee populations, you can donate to nonprofits with a strong track record of delivering results. A good example is the International Refugee Aid Projectwhich advocates reforms to the US resettlement program while providing legal aid to displaced persons around the world.
  • If you want to support refugees once they arrive in your country, you can donate to your local resettlement agencythat provides short-term support to refugees to help them rebuild their lives in their new communities.

In addition to donations, you can play an important role in pressuring your government to provide adequate assistance to the people on the ground – and to be receptive to newcomers arriving at your country’s borders. For example, if you are in the US, here are concrete things you can do:

  • You can contact your representatives to tell the Biden administration: end Title 42a Trump-era policy that barred displaced persons from Central America, Haiti and around the world from their right to seek asylum.
  • You can contact your representatives to: tell them to pass the Afghan Adjustment Act to give evacuated Afghans permanent legal status in the US.

Finally, you can free up your time and energy to help refugees settle into their new lives.

In the US, official resettlement infrastructure was decimated under the Trump administration, and has still not been restored; the Biden administration has arguably been too slow to undo the damage. There is a huge backlog of refugees who have to process their applications and then integrate into new communities. Investing in rebuilding refugee resettlement infrastructure is an important step in tackling the backlog that prevents thousands of people from restarting their lives in the US.

Ultimately, donating, advocating or volunteering in any of the ways mentioned above is a valuable way to make a difference. Refugees need immediate help as they flee a nightmare on the ground; they need advocates to shape the reception policy at their destination; and they need help to settle down when they reach their new home. All these roles are important.

So if the heartbreaking war in Ukraine has reinforced your desire to reduce the suffering of refugees, it’s worth trying to extend the circle of compassion to refugees outside of Ukraine, and get to work helping them too. .

A version of this story initially appeared in the Future Perfect newsletter. Sign up here to subscribe!


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