Standing with Refugees: A Guide

Syrian women sell their wares at a festival at a local refugee services organization in Cairo, Egypt.

World Refugee Day is more than a day-long event raising awareness about refugees. Rather, it is a culmination of many things that span the whole year. It is meant to open eyes to not only the plight of refugees but also their strengths and contributions to the societies that host them. It is a celebration of refugees’ resilience in the face of enormous obstacles. It serves as a platform to share knowledge and build mutual understanding. It is a call to action.

It can be as simple as sharing a story on social media or starting a conversation, or as involved as planning a dinner for refugees resettled in your area. Every share, conversation, and action counts.

Here are five ways that you can stand with refugees all year-long!

1) Contact your representatives:

Do you think we should expand the refugee resettlement quota? Stop separating families seeking asylum at the border? How can U.S. foreign policy change to lessen the conflicts and crises that force people to leave their homes in the first place? Show your representatives that you stand with refugees — this has impact! When policymakers know their constituents care about refugees, they will vote for policies that benefit refugees.

A student in the pre-school program at a refugee services organization in Cairo, Egypt.

Where to start? Interfaith Immigration’s Advocacy Toolkit and Refugee Council USA’s Advocacy Guide, both excellent resources complete with suggestions for calling representations, writing letters, and visiting Congress members in their offices to discuss refugee protection.

2) Host a dinner:

James Beard famously said that “food is our common ground, a universal experience.”

Students break for lunch at a refugee services organization in Cairo, Egypt.

Refugees Welcome ♥ is a program that capitalizes on this notion as food as a way to bring people together. Their model is simple: volunteers plan dinners through which “refugees and non-refugees break bread and barriers.” Your dinner table becomes a forum for sharing food and ideas with new people, and often people new to this country!

Where to start? Anyone — individuals, organizations, communities — can host a dinner, and the Refugees Welcome toolkit makes it easy! Sign up on the Refugees Welcome ♥ website.

3) Buy products made by or that support refugees:

Next time you need a gift for a birthday, wedding, baby shower, or any other occasion, ditch the department store and consider initiatives that sell products made by refugees or that support refugee organizations.

Here are a few ideas:

Tote bag from Refugees Thrive International

Refugees Thrive International sells a range of products, including tote bags, mugs, and t-shirts for adults and children featuring an exclusive calligraphy design of “Refugees Thrive” in the languages spoken by refugees supported by your purchases!

The Embracelet by Epimonia

The Embracelet from Epimonia is produced by refugees who are reintegrating into the labor market.The outside of the bracelet is made from recycled life jackets that refugees have used in their journey to safety, while the inside of the bracelet is made with rich Cognac Flame leather and is inscribed with “building humanity.” The vests were collected on the island Lesbos in Greece.

The BigCozy wrap shawl from TightKnit Syria.

Tight-Knit Syria offers beautiful shawls, scarves, and more hand-knitted by women in Northern Syria. Each purchase supports their mission to create jobs for Syrian refugee women!

4) Get involved in the refugee advocacy community in your area.

Connecting with local organizations and groups doing work with refugees is a wonderful way to support refugees all year.

Women gather at a community event in Cairo, Egypt.

Volunteer with a refugee resettlement agency to help newly arrived refugees settle in and acclimatize to life in the U.S. Refugees are resettled throughout the U.S. — almost every state has resettled refugees. Find out which resettlement agency operates in your state and sign up to welcome refugees!

Another great way to get connected to the refugee support community in your area is to attend a World Refugee Day event! Find a World Refugee Day Event going on near you.

5) Change the narrative on social media and amplify refugee voices.

In 2017, over two-thirds of Americans got their news from social media. Social media is a powerful platform for sharing information and productive dialogue, but it can also be a place for misinformation and reproduction of tropes.

Social media is a great place to share information about refugees. However, media portrayals of refugees, particularly in the U.S., often portray refugees as numbers — part of hordes of people fleeing — or victims, passive recipients of aid. It is important to focus also on refugees’ resilience, skills, and humanity, as such victimhood narratives tend to elide these important issues.

A caseworker’s computer at a refugee services organization in Cairo, Egypt.

Additionally, refugee and displaced voices are often absent from media discussions of refugees, and it is really helpful to bring them back in again in order to get a deeper and more sensitive understanding of people’s experiences.

Where to start? One way to bring refugee voices into the dialogue and emphasize not only their plight but also their strength and humanity is to share stories by refugees themselves.

Happy World Refugee Day from Refugees Thrive International! 
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