With over 60 million displaced people in need of our help, there has never been a more important time to volunteer with refugees.
The refugee crisis continues to unfold on an alarming scale in 2018. While the war in Syria rages on, the world’s fastest-growing refugee crisis is brewing in Myanmar, and the largest displacement of people in Latin American history is occurring in Venezuela. Though the enormity of the crisis may seem overwhelming, there are an array of organizations making it easy to get involved with supporting these communities. Whether you’re providing clothing, education, shelter, or sustenance, every effort counts.
The experience of volunteering to support refugees has a lasting impact -- not only for the local communities but for the volunteers as well. Volunteering with Palestinian refugees in Jordan profoundly altered my perspective on the world, opening my eyes to the humanity and perseverance of displaced people in the face of difficulty and injustice. Everyone deserves a home, a place for their families to be safe.
To that end, we’ve rounded up the top countries to volunteer abroad with refugees in 2018. From Europe to Asia, South America to Africa, read on for the places and organizations where your support matters most in the coming year.
Jordan is home to some of the highest populations of refugees in the world, with 650,00 displaced people seeking asylum from Syria, Iraq, and Palestine. As a result, refugee camps are flooded with inhabitants and short on resources, resulting in limited opportunities for refugees. NGOabroad offers volunteers the chance to assist Iraqi and Syrian refugees by supporting local crafts production, therefore helping to provide sustainable means of livelihood.
Nearly one million refugees have traveled through Greece in the past two years, fleeing Syria, Iraq, and other war-torn countries. Greece is home to more than 62,000 refugees, and there is no shortage of organizations to lend your support.
Volunteer on the island of Lesbos with HIAS Greece to assist at-risk refugee populations, or support the Moria Refugee Camp with The Boat Refugee Foundation. Moria is the largest camp on Lesbos: all migrants arriving by boat are transferred there for registration and asylum application. On the mainland, the Cross-Cultural Solutions Refugee Program provides internships at refugee camps located 50 miles north of Athens, while Help Refugees offers short-term volunteer work at Thessaloniki, the country’s second largest city of Thessaloniki. Volunteers assist in the warehouse, helping in the kitchen and distributing donations to those in need.
The demolition of the Calais “Jungle” has become symbolic of Europe’s neglect and abuse of refugees. Yet, despite the camp’s eviction in October 2016, and the fire that destroyed the Grand Synthe in April 2017, nearly 1,500 refugees continue to sleep in these forests in northern France. Help Refugees, the largest aid operation in northern France, offers women’s and children’s services for these refugees -- providing food, water, clothes, and blankets. Following the eviction of the Calais camp, thousands of refugees found themselves homeless on the streets of Pairs. Become a UN Volunteer for international youth to assist these populations.
The overcrowding of thousands of refugees around a railway station in the Serbian capital has Belgrade being hailed as ‘the new Calais’. Serbia shares a border with Hungary, Romania, and Bulgaria, and has become a key transit point on the Balkan Route -- a path for asylum-seekers to reach Europe.
With the tightening of border controls, nearly 8,000 refugees are stranded in the country -- and are now facing an extremely frigid winter. Volunteer with Help Refugees to provide these people with medical care, blankets, and food.
The fastest-growing humanitarian crisis is unfolding in Myanmar, with 1.7 million people fleeing a military regime the United Nations deemed a "textbook example of ethnic cleansing". The government is denying citizenship to Rohingya Muslims, an ethnic minority in the predominantly Buddhist country. Over half a million residents of the northern province of Rakhine have fled their homes since August 2017, many seeking refuge from human rights violations.
Volunteer opportunities abound in the West Bank: you can assist community development via Love Volunteers or support the Deheishe Refugee Camp with Karama in Bethlehem. Another worthy cause is Volunteer Palestine: the organization’s founders are refugees from the Aida Refugee Camp in Bethlehem. The project was established to provide relief to the local community, which is struggling with limited resources.
Volunteer with HIAS Kenya at one of their four offices in Nairobi to assist the influx of the country’s refugees, many of whom have suffered torture or sexual violence. The majority of refugees in Kenya are from Somalia, with additional migrants fleeing Ethiopia, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and South Sudan.
Not all of these refugees are originally from elsewhere, however. After the 2007 election in Kenya, over 600,000 people fled their homes to escape the ensuing riots. Once the violence subsided, many Kenyans were too afraid to return to their homes and ended up pitching tents, becoming known as Settled Internally Displaced People (SIDP). The organization Love Volunteers offers aid to the SIDP village located two hours outside Nairobi.
More than 600,000 refugees have fled Venezuela for Colombia, and thousands more are arriving every day. In Venezuela, over 1.1 million people have been displaced, the largest refugee crisis in Latin American history. The reason? The Hugo Chavez regime has left over 90% of its citizens without enough food to survive.
Refugee camps, once rare in South America, are now cropping up along the Venezuelan borders. IVHQ offers volunteer opportunities in Cartagena and Bogotá.
Italy is home to nearly 200,00 refugees, with roughly 600 people arriving in the country from North Africa on a daily basis in hopes for a better life -- though, for the majority of these people, these hopes will remain unfulfilled. Over 50% of displaced people in Italy weren’t offered protection by the government.
Volunteer with Help Refugees to assist these migrant populations via family reunification and aid for trafficked women. IVHQ runs a project in Southern Italy providing NGO support to refugees in Naples. Projects Abroad offers refugee aid in Reggio, Calabria, and Camini, helping migrants (especially children) adapt to life in Italy. The timing is flexible, with the minimum commitment being only two weeks -- ideal if you’re short on vacation time, but still want to make an impact.
Belgium is another European country with ample volunteer opportunities supporting refugees in 2018. IVHQ has a Mobile Library initiative which provides education and reading materials to the refugee community living on the streets in the Belgian capital of Brussels. The library moves to different locations around the city every day, giving the opportunity for refugees to enjoy a cup of coffee, socialize, and read.
As a volunteer, you will also serve breakfast to refugees standing in line outside the immigration office in the morning, trying to seek asylum. Socializing is a key component to these initiatives -- as a volunteer, you will mingle with the people you are assisting every day, providing food, entertainment, and daily amenities. Many of these displaced peoples are without their friends and family, so these small acts of kindness can make a huge difference in their daily lives.
The best part about volunteering abroad? Your work doesn’t end when you return home. You can still maintain involvement with the organization by fundraising, keeping in touch with the refugees you met, and sharing your experience with friends and family. When I visited the refugee camp in Jordan, there were letters from their peers overseas hanging up on the wall, and this connection with the world outside these camps is more important now than ever. In an increasingly divided geopolitical environment, building and maintaining these connections overseas is more important now than ever. These displaced people must know that there are people across the globe concerned about their welfare and eager to help in every way possible. Additionally, it’s crucial to speak up when you return home! Talking about your volunteer trip will educate friends and family about a crisis that can seem remote and overwhelming. Share your stories and the stories of the refugees you met. They all want the same things we do: education, healthcare, career opportunity.
Your volunteer efforts will help them rebuild their lives in the wake of tragedy. The above opportunities are just a sample of the rewarding and meaningful volunteer work you can do abroad. By looking into these organizations, you are taking the crucial first step in making your dreams of volunteering overseas a reality. We encourage you to sign up, book your flights, and change the world. Every single one of us can make a difference.