By TARA SIEGEL BERNARD | on 18 February 2017
Over 65 million people around the world were displaced from their homes because of war, conflict or persecution in 2015, a level not seen since World War II. “To help the greatest number of refugees, you need first to understand where those refugees are located, and second, to support the organizations addressing refugee needs on the ground,” ...
It is hard to process numbers that large, and the many tragic stories behind them. But a single photograph of a 3-year-old Syrian boy who drowned and lay lifeless on a Turkish beach in 2015 humanized the refugee crisis for many people. Many charitable individuals may be moved to find the most effective ways to help.
But donors who want to help face questions familiar to aid organizations: How does one most effectively deploy limited sums of money to help the most people? Where is the need most dire?
“To help the greatest number of refugees, you need first to understand where those refugees are located, and second, to support the organizations addressing refugee needs on the ground,” said Katherina M. Rosqueta, founding executive director of the Center for High Impact Philanthropy at the University of Pennsylvania.
Meeting refugees’ day-to-day needs is vital, but aid workers also urge donors to think about supporting charities trying to solve problems that will help families over the longer term.
“It’s easy to get people who will write a check to help people in immediate need,” said Emily E. Arnold-Fernández, executive director at Asylum Access, a nonprofit advocacy group that focuses on refugees’ human and legal rights. “But if you are willing to be a little more strategic with your philanthropic dollars, they can go a lot further.”
Below are some suggestions on how to decide which charities to support, as well as a sampling of well-regarded organizations to which donors can give directly:
Charity Navigator’s Suggestions
Charity Navigator has a list of its top charities involved in the Syrian crisis, which all have been granted at least three of four possible stars using its rating system. The stars are awarded based on a charity’s financial health and efficiency, accountability and transparency. Michael Thatcher, the group’s president, suggests that donors vetting charities look at an organization’s website to see if it publishes any evidence of results.
International Rescue Committee
The International Rescue Committee is a group highly rated by charity trackers and professionals that helps refugees at every juncture. The group has worked to set up a reception center on the Greek island of Lesbos, where many Syrians seeking refuge in Europe land after traversing the dangerous route — often on rubber dinghies — from Turkey.
Beyond food and shelter, it also provides health care and protection services for women and children, and programs to help develop long-term job skills. The group also helps resettle refugees in cities across the United States.
Oxfam America is helping provide Syrians in their home country — as well as in Jordan and Lebanon — with clean water, sanitation and other vital items. That might include cash and supplies like blankets and stoves, or vouchers for hygiene supplies. They are also helping families get information about their rights, while connecting them to medical and legal services. Individuals can earmark donations for the crises in the Middle East, though the organization said it is often best to give to its general fund, which enables it to be more nimble.
Doctors Without Borders
Doctors Without Borders still has a limited presence in Syria, even after the abduction of some staff members in 2014 and the partial destruction of a medical facility in 2015 that killed seven people. The doctors also help refugees in neighboring countries including Lebanon, Jordan and Iraq. They have also operated search-and-rescue ships in the Mediterranean, which have rescued thousands of people attempting the voyage to Europe.
Save the Children
Save the Children helps refugees in several ways, by providing emergency aid and health care and rebuilding damaged classrooms and supporting schools, inside Syria and in neighboring countries. The organization supports schools and health care facilities and runs child-friendly spaces for children affected by the conflict, offering them a sense of normalcy.
Mercy Corps works to supply basic needs in Syria, where its help reaches over 470,000 people each month, and elsewhere, including emergency food, clean water, sanitation and stable shelters. Among the 1,000 workers on its crisis response teams are people who work with host countries to try to diffuse tensions.
InterAction, whose nonprofit members must meet certain governance standards, also has a dedicated page on its website listing members that have helped Syrian refugees. Filters on the site can help donors locate charities that focus on a specific issue, like refugee camp management, helping children or education.