Since the influx of refugees into Europe became headline news in August, our plates have been more full than usual. Underlying this highly visible desperate search for safety is the fact that globally approximately 60 million people are displaced by conflict, more than at any point on record.
For the past decade our staff have been focused on Africa, where we use the knowledge and positioning that our programs give us to influence global refugee policy and practice. So we are very much connected with our peers in the refugee assistance field throughout this crisis, And this year we have taken concrete steps to protect Syrians as well.
Many RefugePoint supporters have wondered how our work relates to the current crisis and how they can help. This update will share a few points about the crisis and suggest ways to support our life-saving contributions to the field.
NOTES ABOUT CURRENT CRISIS
- While Syrians make up over half of all refugees who arrived in Europe this year, large numbers of Africans (primarily from Eritrea and Somalia) continue to arrive. Some are taking the same routes as the Syrians, from Turkey to Greece, while the majority continues to arrive in Italy over dangerous sea routes from Egypt and Libya. These smuggling and trafficking schemes affect many of the populations with which we work.
- It should be emphasized that the Syrians arriving in Europe are not fleeing straight from Syria. They have spent years as refugees in camps and urban areas in the neighboring countries: Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey. In those countries, the assistance and opportunities provided (education, jobs, accommodation) fall far short of the refugees’ survival needs. Many had tried and exhausted all options for making their lives in their host countries or emigrating legally elsewhere before concluding that they must try to make it to Europe to survive. As Somali-British poet Warsan Shire wrote, “No one puts their children in a boat unless the water is safer than the land.”
GLOBAL POLICY & PRACTICE
Compounding the sheer number of people displaced today is the fact that the average amount of time someone lives as a refugee is nearing 20 years. It is now more apparent than ever that the international community must: 1) create better opportunities for refugees to live dignified, self-supporting lives in their host countries, and; 2) expand opportunities for legal resettlement to third countries. These are the only things that will help stem the tide of dangerous onward journeys.
And these are exactly the solutions that RefugePoint works on.
Resettlement is reserved for the most at-risk refugees who are unable to stay safely where they are. RefugePoint has found and referred nearly 30,000 such refugees since our inception, providing them a secure and legal pathway to safety. Resettlement also represents a significant pressure valve for desperate populations. It provides hope of a future solution without needing to pay smugglers and undertake dangerous journeys. In the countries neighboring Syria, resettlement has been used to a limited degree but needs to be greatly expanded. RefugePoint has long been an advocate for increased and more equitable resettlement.
2) Self-reliance in host countries:
Beyond resettlement, our program in Nairobi is designed to enable refugees to resume dignified, self-sustaining lives in Kenya so that they will not need to pursue dangerous onward journeys in search of a future. While we are still in the relatively early stages of refining our holistic service model and demonstrating proof of concept, our private funding has enabled us to operate in a nimble and iterative manner to protect and stabilize refugees and share some practices that can bear impact elsewhere in Africa and globally.
The workshop we organized at Harvard last April was also exactly on this subject – how to productively include refugees in their host countries and communities, rather than relegating them to desperate lives of dependency in refugee camps. We are very much engaged in the global policy conversations on this topic, which was well known to be a crisis before it manifested so visibly in Europe in August.
How RefugePoint’s Programs Help Syrian Refugees
RefugePoint has two projects currently that directly relate to Syrian refugees.
- One of our staff is currently based in Geneva as a consultant to UNHCR to carry out a resettlement training program for UNHCR resettlement officers in the Middle East and North Africa. As the number of resettlement slots available to Syrians is expected to increase significantly, the importance of this project has also increased. With this project, we are also promoting the engagement of NGOs to help identify the most at-risk refugees.
- Another of our staff is currently stationed in Cairo, conducting “best interest determinations (BIDs)” for vulnerable refugee children, which will allow them to be considered for resettlement or referred for other protective services. During her tenure in Cairo, she has trained other staff who are now carrying out these essential BIDs for Syrian refugee children in Egypt.
RefugePoint is a member of two important advocacy coalitions: Refugee Council USA (RCUSA.org) and the International Council of Voluntary Agencies (icvanetwork.org). Through these coalitions, RefugePoint is able to support and have a voice in important advocacy initiatives, which helped lead to the recent White House announcement that it will increase the number it receives into the U.S. through the resettlement program from 70,000 in 2015 to 85,000 in 2016, largely to accommodate more Syrians. This increase is far short of the 200,000 that RCUSA advocated and members are continuing their push for higher quotas and greater leadership by the U.S. on this issue.
HOW YOU CAN HELP
RCUSA has posted on its website an excellent “how you can help Syrian refugees” compendium, which we recommend reading. The advice ranges from how to help refugees locally in the U.S., whom to donate to, which petitions to sign, calling your congressional representatives, spreading the word on social media, or hosting an event.
- Extend the Geneva-based position through 2016 (currently set to end this December), allowing us to train many more UNHCR and NGO staff on resettlement to greatly expand referral numbers from the Middle East and North Africa; and
- Extend the Cairo-based child protection position through 2016 (also currently set to end this December), allowing us to conduct many more ‘best interest determinations’ and train other child protection staff so that vulnerable Syrian children may be considered for resettlement.
There are a lot of other agencies doing excellent work with Syrian and other refugees at all stages of their displacement. New England International Donors (NEID) has a list of agencies worthy of support that we contributed to creating.
UNHCR is the primary agency responsible for refugees internationally and is on the front lines of assisting Syrians. Their budget for this work is seriously underfunded, which in part led to the conditions that compelled the Syrians to take matters into their own hands and risk the trip to Europe. UNHCR is included in the NEID website.
Thank you for your partnership, interest, and support. We are facing a historic moment in the global refugee crisis. This is a time for each of us to get involved in whatever way we can.
The RefugePoint Team