The impulse to help that people feel when watching their TV screens or glued to their phones as the tragedy in Ukraine unfolds is strong. But, what is the best way to do this?
Helping refugees: a few DON’Ts
Do not travel to Ukraine or to the borders of those countries receiving Ukrainian refugees unless you have the skills that people on the ground are looking for. You will only be a burden. If you do go, ensure you can cover all your expenses while there.
Do not start collecting and sending clothes or bedding. Most requests are filled within a couple of hours and further donations are landfill. The cost to the volunteer sorters and the environment is high.
Do not collect and send sanitary products, first aid and food unless it has been specifically requested, you can manage to undertake all the Brexit paper work, have funded the transport and have a clear logistical plan, supported by those at the ‘coal face’.
If you are in doubt about the potential harm of unsolicited donations, please read this guidance.
Do not bring people fleeing Ukraine back across the UK border without visas. It will not help their case on arrival, you are likely to be imprisoned (Section 25 of the Immigration Act 1971) and, if the government has its way and the nationality and borders bill is passed, this could be for life.
Do not forget Syria, Afghanistan, Yemen of other conflict zones. Their need is as great as ever but support may dwindle as the world turns its attention to Ukraine.
Helping refugees: the DOs
Do give money. Large aid organisations such as the Red Cross have decades of experience in disaster relief, have people on the ground and know how to negotiate to get supplies through. You can donate directly to organisations but most are being coordinated through the Disaster Emergency Committee (DEC) and the UK government will match all funding raised through the DEC – though only up to £20m.
Thinking longer term and more widely than Ukraine, the UN food programme is still playing an important role, especially in Afghanistan and Yemen. Longer term, after this initial crisis, it will continue to provide food in Ukraine, and possibly Russia as the impact of war deepens.
If you want to aid individuals directly @quentquarantino suggested booking Airbnb places in Ukraine as one option. Airbnb rooms are also being offered for refugees. When booking send messages of support.
You can also give money to smaller local ‘irregular’ appeals, but take care they are not ‘scams’. Gulwali Paserlay, author and refugee, has been trying to feed his family and their neighbours in Afghanistan following the return of the Taliban.
Neighbourhood sharing of resources may go further, so this is a worthwhile route.
Raise funds and awareness
Raise funds. Coffee mornings, or similar are great and it is not just about the money. They may not raise a huge amount but they bring communities together and this can be built on. Provide information (such as the below fact sheet) so awareness can grow. Use the event to identify those who would like to help more.
Set up a local list of people who want to help or want to be kept informed. That way you can let people know of campaigns or appeals for donations. Link with other refugee support groups in your area.
No need to reinvent the wheel
Join one of the hundreds of local refugee groups – my small district of Craven in North Yorkshire has at least four and many City of Sanctuary groups. Smaller groups often work as part of a network and support larger urban groups. If there is not a local group, create one; but do link with others with experience.
Remember also, that if you do not get an immediate response, volunteers may be overwhelmed with new offers of help. Be patient, they have been doing this for years and know the need will still be here tomorrow.
Support organisations that do not always carry the ‘refugee’ label. Churches, gurdwaras, mosques and synagogues are all involved with supporting refugees, one way or another, either directly or through larger organisations such as Christian Aid. If you think your organisation could do more, suggest it.
Food banks, baby banks and voluntary sector accommodation projects are helping hundreds of refugees in the UK, particularly those made destitute by government asylum policies.
Inform and campaign
Talk to people and ensure they are informed of the facts.
Campaign for a more generous and welcoming refugee policy. The nationality and borders bill will criminalise and intern asylum seekers arriving the UK, and imprison for longer those who help them into the country. It is one of the most hostile and cruel bills ever put before parliament and needs to be stopped.
Most local groups and many national groups are campaigning against the bill. Refuge Action is a good place to start.
Write to your MP, especially if it is a Conservative MP, and don’t be despondent with the reply. It will be based on standard Home Office guff of very little value. The important thing is that your MP knows you care.