Everyday People Lending a Hand
In the largest refugee and migrant crisis in modern history, the responses of everyday people are often overlooked. According to UNHCR, “nearly 34,000 people are forcibly displaced every day as a result of conflict or persecution”. Individuals around the world are responding to this alarming situation by making an effort to lend a hand where they can. Below we have collected a handful of cases in which people have seen a need and have sought to fill that need with the skills or resources they possess.
One of the most dangerous aspects of the crisis is the traveller’s journey to a new home. Across the world, individuals are helping to facilitate safe passage for migrants and refugees. A story featured in the Guardian about Antonis Deligiorgis showcases an instance of inspiring bravery on the part of bystanders to the refugee crisis. Witnessing a boat crash off the coast of the Isle of Rhodes over his morning coffee at a seafront cafe, off-duty army sergeant Deligiorgis was in the water within five minutes. Amongst the spilt oil and boat debris he managed to single-handedly pull 20 of the 93 people to shore. Deligiorgis gave what he had. He had the courage, strength and endurance to persevere through the waves and infamous Rhodes Island rocks that had caused the wreckage upwards of forty times. Deligiorgis’ story epitomizes a situation in which an individual saw that refugees were in immediate need and sought to fill those needs.
There are many examples like this in which individuals help migrants and refugees complete their journey. Take the galvanising example of the Austrian ‘Refugee Convoy’. This group of ordinary people, from all walks of life, were united by the fact that they were appalled by authorities in Hungary preventing refugees and migrants from boarding trains to Germany. They decided to meet at a local football stadium in Vienna, filled their cars with supplies and travelled in a convoy into Hungry to collect the refugees and migrants and return with them.
In an interview with Aljazera a member of the convoy, Tsamira Weissflug, explained why she took part in the convoy:
“This is a situation in which a private person can help. Not just with ‘blah, blah, blah’ but with something concrete. Someone needs me, I have a car, I have the time, so vamonos — let’s go.”
Weissflug, and countless others like her, saw a need and gave what they had — their food and water, their vehicles and their time to facilitate the safe passage of migrants and refugees.
The example of Deligiorgis in Greece and the Refugee Convoy in Hungary have highlighted instances of individuals seeking to fulfill refugee/migrant needs during their journey to their new home. However, there are also resettlement needs that arise when the refugees/migrants reach their destination that need to be filled.
Below is a catalogue of initiatives operated by everyday people around the world who are exercising their skills to support resettlement. Artists are creating artworks expressing signs of welcome and de-legitimizing xenophobia. In Dresden local artists painted “Welcome” in Arabic on the side of a train carriage. Sports clubs, players and viewers in Germany are sending their messages of welcome to refugees via messages on shirts, plaques in the crowd at matches and donations. Restaurateurs are offering their restaurants as training venues for newly settled refugees. In Melbourne an organization called Scarf places newly settled refugees, migrants and other vulnerable young people in ‘on the job’ hospitality training and mentoring at trendy Melbournian restaurants.
Those who can contribute from their homes are participating in online initiatives designed to match hosts to those needing housing and arrange flat-shares. An organization called ‘Refugees Welcome’ operates in countries around the world; some of which include: Germany, Austria, Greece, Poland, Spain, The Netherlands, Portugal, Italy, Sweden, Canada, Romania and Northern Ireland. Australia joined that list in January this year. Collectively, this international online organization has managed to place 911 refugees in shared flats to date. People are also working from home on initiatives designed to generate online phrasebooks for refugees with translations in their native tongue. Refugee Phrasebook has produced 3 phrasebooks in 44 languages to help facilitate language integration for newly settled refugees and migrants. These individuals are all using their diverse backgrounds, expertise and resources — whatever they have to offer — to support resettlement.
There are a variety of ways in which people are standing together. You can share what you are doing by using the hashtag: #jointogether