Every single day, political turmoil forces people out of their homes and countries. Having to start their lives from scratch, these refugees oftentimes struggle to receive even basic human necessities.
By volunteering abroad with refugee relief, you can make a difference overseas. Typically, these projects will involve working in a refugee camp, teaching English, providing medical assistance (if you're qualified), or supporting organizations -- such as the IRC or Red Cross -- through administrative work.
Keep in mind that there are also lots of ways to get involved long-term with refugee resettlement at home, and you don't necessarily have to volunteer abroad to help the cause.Photo Credit: United Nations Photo
Europe / North America
Whether you're in your home country or abroad, volunteers can assist with refugee resettlement (e.g. helping refugees relocated to the country get settled, figure out the bus system, adjust to life in a new place) in Europe and North America.
Northern Africa / Middle East
Refugees from several different conflicts are currently seeking aid in countries like Israel / Palestine, Turkey, and elsewhere in Northern Africa / the Middle East.
Especially if you have proficiency in Arabic, your skills could be of use in this region. Just make sure to check on the current political climate before selecting a destination in this region.
The world’s biggest refugee camp exists in Dadaab, Kenya. Kenya is actually planning on closing the refugee camp, because the “facility housing Somalis displaced… poses a threat”.
Nonetheless, Kenya -- and particularly in Nairobi -- is an option for refugee volunteer projects in mainland Africa.
Burmese refugees have typically taken up temporary residence in Thailand. The refugees arrived in the camps in 1984, and some of them have never left. There remains a demand for volunteers to work with refugee relief in Thailand to this day.
There are also populations of Tibetan refugees in India that volunteers can work with.
Many of the refugee camps do not have access to proper medical care and medicine. If you have a medical degree or background, helping with medical relief in a refugee camp is a great option to consider.
Teaching English and Other Skills
Many camps lack the resources for education. By teaching children and adults English, you can help them prepare to adapt to a wider variety of foreign countries and gain a valuable life skill. Certain programs also look for teachers who have other skills to offer, such as teaching IT and general computer skills to the refugees of the camp.
Below is a snapshot of some tips to help you plan your trip volunteering with refugees abroad. For more details, Go Overseas also has a more comprehensive guide on how to volunteer with refugees abroad.
Choosing Your Program
Volunteers can help for as long or as short as they’d like, depending on the volunteer commitment. Some volunteer trips can take place over one week, while some can take place over many months and even up to a year. You should volunteer for however long you’re able to and however long you feel comfortable with.
IRC, the International Rescue Committee, is one of major organizations for refugee relief abroad and at home. You can start planning your trip by browsing some of the programs on the site to get a better idea of what is offered and what suits your skill set.
Alternatively, UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, takes volunteers to help refugees in refugee camps. Even if you don’t want to physically go abroad, even donating a small amount of money will go towards the movement.
Questions to Ask
- Is the company you're volunteering with reputable?
- What necessary precautions do they take to ensure your safety?
- How long is the program?
- How much does it cost?
- What are your living conditions like?
- How many other volunteers are there?
- What is the minimum age requirement?
- Do they provide transportation, meals, housing, or even a stipend?
- Do I need a visa to enter my country of choice?