Thursday, 15 June 2017

Despite the enormity of the global refugee crisis, don’t put your head in the sand

When the world marks World Refugee Day on June 20, we are reminded of how huge the number of people is who have been forced to flee their homes. On average, 20 people were driven from their homes every minute last year.  According to the UN Refugee Organization, 65.6 million people were forcibly displaced worldwide at the end of 2016.

The reaction of the international community to this unprecedented crisis has been pitiful. Most European countries are closing their doors to as many asylum seekers as possible. The number of refugees arriving in the United States has dropped sharply since the election of Donald Trump. 

And while the Canadian government prides itself on being exceptionally welcoming to refugees, the actual numbers do not confirm this: From 2015 to 2016, Canada has taken in about one refugee for every 2,000 people, compared to 30 in Sweden, 20 in Austria, or about a dozen in Germany, Finland or Norway, putting Canada in 20th place among industrialized nations accepting refugees, on a per capita basis. Furthermore, a recent study shows that Canadians as a whole are not more tolerant towards refugees than other countries.

Given the enormity of the displacement issue and the unwillingness of governments to do more, many of us feel helpless. But now, more than ever, is not the time to put our heads in the sand.

Here are a few things you can do:

Sponsor refugees

  • If you live in Canada, consider forming or joining a private refugee sponsorship group
  • If you are outside of Canada, petition your government to consider adapting the Canadian private sponsorship model

Help refugees settle into Canada (or other countries)

  • Join a welcome group of volunteers who support government-assisted refugees settle into Canada with the Together Project
  • Become a newcomer mentor with CultureLink
  • Check out other volunteer options to support newcomers in your local area. In Toronto, you can check out Volunteer Toronto’s Helping Refugees page. 
  • Offer a (temporary) home to refugees – you can sign up on Roofs for Refugees or Airbnb’s Open Home platform, for example

Speak out

  • Advocate for more refugees to come to Canada faster, and to clear the refugee backlog - for example by writing a letter to your MP. You can find more information on the Canada4Refugees website. 
  • You can also check out the ‘Refugees Welcome ‘ campaign resources of the Canadian Council for Refugees 
  • Sign a petition, such as Amnesty International’s petition to the Canadian government to rescind the third party agreement with the United States
  • Share the UNHCR’s #WithRefugees campaign and other refugee-related messages on social media
  • Speak out when you hear negative comments about refugees, migrants and newcomers


  • Donate money to organizations working with refugees, either local ones such as Lifeline Syria or global organizations such as the UNHCR, Doctors Without Borders, ShelterBox, Save the Children
  • You can also give in-kind donations such as furniture, clothes and household items to a number of local organizations. Remember to only donate items that are in excellent condition

Do you have other suggestions? Send us your ideas in the comment box!

By Claudia Blume