The Refugee Crisis from a New York Perspective

Every week if not every day there is another story in the news on our global refugee crisis. A child dies trying to make it across the Aegean Sea to Greece. The EU negotiates with Turkey to repatriate illegal refugees while supposedly taking in an equal number of legitimate refugees. The Schengen agreement effectively goes up in flames as EU countries reinstitute border controls.

Meanwhile, we sit here in New York and worry about our ongoing presidential campaign, our rent or mortgages, if Mayor De Blasio can be effective, how the Mets and Yankees are going to do this year. Syria is far away and it is very easy to dismiss our current crisis (yes our) as Europe’s problem, or the Middle East’s problem.

I find this particularly hard to stomach. We have been and remain a country of immigrants, even if we are going through a period of income inequality and social unrest. Most of us are here because our ancestors were fleeing from something terrible: wars or political, economic or religious persecution. To be sure, not all Americans are here because they were leaving something bad behind. Many came to seek fortunes or change.

I do not expect us to open up our doors to massive waves of immigrants. But we need to do more to help others in need. Donating to charities is a great place to start and participating in a volunteer mission is even better. There are great organizations at work on both fronts, like Doctors without Borders, UNICEF, Save the Children, and others. My personal recommendation is the International Rescue Committee.

Founded in 1933 with the help of Albert Einstein, IRC is notable for its focus on results — the most recent review of the charity’s finances showed 93% of its donations going to actual programs and services. Currently led by David Milband, the former Secretary for Foreign Affairs on the UK, IRC is very active in the Syrian Crisis. It is providing resettlement support to the small number of Syrians being allowed into the US and providing healthcare and other services in Syria, Iraq, Greece, Lebanon, and Jordan.

So take some time as we enjoy the blossoming of spring to remember that we are very fortunate to live in our beautiful city. Whether you donate your time or money help those displaced by the Syrian crisis and pay homage to the immigrants that have sought safety and a new life in this country for generations.