Guest Post: What You Can Do For Refugees Today
by Selina Miller Forsyth
I am a social work Master’s student at Brigham Young University, and have always been interested in international development, poverty issues, and what we can do to really make a difference in the world.
I talk to people all the time who want to know how to help refugees. Many of them were inspired by the LDS church initiative “I Was a Stranger” or Elder Patrick Kearon’s April 2016 General Conference talk. These individuals express real compassion and a deep desire to get involved, as well as a lack of opportunities for meaningful contribution. They usually don’t know any refugees or they live far from refugee-serving agencies where they could volunteer. They want to help, but driving an hour or more each way in order to do it is not feasible for them. Of course they can donate money, but to some that feels like a cop-out.
Two summers ago, I interned with the International Rescue Committee, one of the largest refugee resettlement agencies in the United States. While there I learned a lot about the experiences of refugees, the history of refugee resettlement in the US, and the long process refugees go through before arriving here. I met men, women, and children from many nations who have endured more than you and I will likely ever have to. Since then, I have developed dear friendships with Iraqi, Afghan, and Syrian refugees living near my home.
Face-to-face experience serving and learning from refugees is awesome. I can personally attest to that. If you can find a way to get to know a refugee personally, I promise it will change your life and your perspective. However, many more refugees are still in camps waiting and hoping for the chance to be resettled to a safe country. Meanwhile, here in the US there is a lot of controversy (and lots of misinformation) about refugee resettlement. **In our current climate, the most important way I see of helping refugees is to advocate for the US to continue refugee resettlement.**
Some people argue that the best way to help is to fund more and better refugee camps. While emergency funding is important, ultimately what refugees need is a place where they can keep their families safe, obtain a job, get education for their children, form part of a community, and build a self-reliant life. Those opportunities are not available in a refugee camp. Research shows that once they get to America, the vast majority of refugees achieve these objectives.
So what can you do to advocate for refugee resettlement? Here are just a few ideas to get you started:
1) Educate yourself about how the refugee vetting and resettlement process works. Understand the difference between the system for refugees vs asylees and the United States’ system vs that of various European countries. There is a lot of misinformation about these issues that causes unnecessary fear.
2) Find out more about the situations refugees and other displaced persons are fleeing, the conditions in which they live, and what is being done to help them internationally. The more you know, the more powerful your voice can be.
3) Know what legislation is being proposed that would affect refugees coming to the United States. A simple search of the bills and resolutions introduced into the 114th Congress (as found on www.congress.gov) showed me over 25 bills seeking to restrict some aspect of current resettlement policy.
4) Find out if your state’s governor or law-making body is opposing refugee resettlement, and call on them to make refugees welcome in your state.
5) Write to your local, state, and federal legislators in support of refugee resettlement.
6) Call your legislators and tell them what you think.
7) URGENT: On December 9, Congress will vote on the budget for fiscal year 2017. Call or write to your congresspersons now to emphasize the importance of continued funding for the US refugee resettlement program. Here’s a link that makes it super easy.
 For those who can, I personally encourage giving generous donations. Donating to organizations who are on the ground doing great work, like the United Nations High Commission for Refugees, UNICEF, Catholic Charities, the International Rescue Committee, International Medical Corps, and Physicians for Human Rights, is one of the most effective ways to help. That’s a major way the Church does it, after all.