Friday, December 18, 2015

#RefugeesWelcome: Here’s how you can help

When I first moved to Istanbul, the near-total lack of people living on the street stood in stark contrast to my native San Francisco, where homelessness has been a serious problem for decades. The war in Syria changed all that. I’ve become used to seeing the men who sleep outside the hotel where I go to the gym, huddling against the air vent for some scant warmth and propping up cardboard to ward off the wind; the children racing in and out of traffic to beg from cars, sometimes with a plastic bag of sickly-yellow inhalant drugs in one hand; the families begging on the sidewalk with their Syrian passports held open to passersby.

Syrian Kurdish refugees arriving in Turkey. Photo: EC/ECHO
Not all of the nearly 2.5 million Syrians in Turkey are homeless, of course. Though only around 220,000 are in the refugee camps set up near the border, others are renting (often overcrowded, overpriced, substandard) apartments, or squatting in abandoned buildings. And, of course, many are embarking on the dangerous and difficult journey to Europe, boarding flimsy boats to reach Greek islands like Lesbos and then crossing the Balkans by train, bus, or on foot. Photos of these refugees – and, in particular, of the body of one 3-year-old boy washed up on a beach in Turkey – have awakened the rest of the world to the desperate reality with which people in this region were already far too familiar.

Though there’s been much handwringing about the lack of response to the plight of Syrians and other refugees, and an increasingly ugly anti-Muslim backlash, I’m holding firm to my belief that most people (or at least, most of you) are, like me, not heartless or ignorant or prejudiced, but instead overwhelmed by the scale and scope of suffering in the world and feeling powerless to do anything about it. If that rings true for you, please join me in taking at least one of the following actions today, and continuing to look for ways to do more tomorrow.

Pro-refugee rally in Melbourne.
Photo: John Englart (Takver)/Flickr CC-by-SA
Individual efforts can’t bring an end to these devastating crises but they can save, and improve, lives. If you don’t have the time to volunteer, donate money; if you don’t have the money to spend, ask friends and families to donate on your behalf in lieu of giving you a Christmas present.

If you know of other ways to help refugees, from Syria or elsewhere, locally or globally, by giving money or time, please post them in the comments and I’ll keep updating this list. And please feel share this post widely. I know there’s a lot of options for ways to help, but don’t get overwhelmed! Just pick one, randomly or whatever speaks to you most. Let’s not let hate win or hope die.

> Stay informed and speak out