Katya Akulinicheva, BA Politics Philosophy Economics from the University of Oxford and an MBA from INSEAD, is a former investment banker currently working in social impact consulting. Katya has just returned from a weekend volunteering at the refugee camp in Calais, France.
What is happening and what you can do to help?
According to the UNHCR, over 15 million people have been displaced by the political crisis in Syria. That’s more than 3 times the population of Ireland. An estimated 7.6 million have been displaced internally. Over 800,000 refugees have arrived in Europe by sea. Over 4.3 million have fled to neighbouring Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan and Iraq.
These people have been surviving for months now without a permanent home, and all the basic comforts that come with it – sanitation, healthcare, proper food or a comfortable bed.
How did we get here?
Timeline of events:
- As part of the Arab spring, Syrians take to the streets with peaceful protests against the corrupt, autocratic regime of Bashar al-Assad. The government responds with killings and torture
- Thousands start fleeing to Turkey and Lebanon
- Internal fighting continues, with the Syrian army launching a number of offensives
- Immigration escalates, with tens of thousands fleeing to Jordan and Iraq, as well as Turkey and Lebanon
- First boat of refugees reaches Italy
- The Syrian Civil War develops into a proxy war, leading to 100,000 civilians dead and over 1.5 million Syrian refugees displaced throughout the Middle East
- ISIS joins the fight as a rival rebel group
- Migration to Europe accelerates; Sweden rules to grant permanent residence to migrants, the first of EU countries to do so
- More than 6.5 million displaced within Syria, more than 3 million refugees fled abroad. Lebanon and Turkey are the biggest recipients
- Presidential elections held in Syria. Bashar al-Assad wins with 88.7% majority
- Total number of refugees abroad reaches 4 million
- Hundreds of thousands enter Europe through Greece
- Situation in Europe develops into a crisis
- Body of child migrant washes up on a beach in Turkey, causing widespread outcry
- Terrorist attacks take place in Tunisia, Egypt, Lebanon, France, Mali
How have we responded?
The refugee crisis has evoked dramatically split responses worldwide. It has forced European countries to close borders, going against the very founding principle of the EU.
Some have accused the migrants of “riding the wave” of the political crisis to simply seek a better life in Europe. Regardless, the facts remain. The recent atrocities in Paris have not helped to encourage citizens to respond with compassion, rather than fear and hostility.
So, how can you help?
The needs of the refugees vary a lot from camp to camp. This is because of differences in weather conditions, demographics and level of government support. And the biggest question is, how long will this persist? Interestingly, most of them have phones and have been using technology to share information and coordinate their efforts at an unprecedented scale.
Here is map of the refugee camps and their current needs: Link
For example, the camp in Calais was initially designed for c.1,000 people but is now said to have over 6,000 refugees. Most of them in this camp (c.85%) are adult males. Temperatures are rapidly approaching zero, and precipitation is frequent. Most of the refugees left home in shorts and flip-flops.
There are 70 people to 1 toilet, rather than 20 as mandated by the UN’s Basic Human Rights. There are no waste disposal systems. So what do they need? Jackets, shoes, tents, blankets.
The most direct way you can help is to volunteer, either in a refugee camp in Europe or for a Relevant charity offering invaluable logistical support (volunteer coordination, sorting donations, fundraising).
An easier, and equally powerful, way to support the refugees is through a financial donation.
For example, $20 can provide two families with synthetic mats to prevent them from sleeping on the ground, $50 can provide thermal fleece blankets and $100 can provide a portable stove.
You can offer your time or financial assistance through large organisations, such as:
- UNHCR, UNICEF
- Medecins sans Frontiers
- Save the Children
- Red Cross
- CARE International
- International Medical Corps
Source: UNHCR, media, Wikipedia.org