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The Syrian Refugee Crisis: Showing Up for Our Partners in Ways Other Funders Do Not

The UUSC difference: maintaining long-term relationships with affected communities.

By Michael Kourabas on November 18, 2019

Part 1 of 2

At UUSC, we build eye-to-eye partnerships with grassroots organizations that may have limited access to outside funding. A hallmark of these relationships is our willingness to support them in ways that other funders will not. This is particularly true when we mount a humanitarian crisis response, like the UUSC-UUA Syrian Refugee Crisis Fund that raised nearly three-quarters of a million dollars to address those fleeing the Syrian Civil War — which led to a record 1.3 million refugees arriving in Europe seeking asylum. Facing violent and illegal pushbacks as they migrate, today tens of thousands live in dangerous and overcrowded camps in Greece and Bosnia-Herzegovina, and nearly a million requests for asylum remain unprocessed across Europe.

Overall, UUSC’s Syrian Refugee Crisis Fund made 35 grants to 18 partners working on the crisis in nine countries — Croatia, Greece, Hungary, Jordan, Lebanon, Macedonia, Serbia, Turkey, and the U.S. In most crisis situations, large international aid agencies arrive on the ground, initiate their own short-term responses without consulting those most impacted by the crisis, and deprive locally led groups from critical resources. Then they leave.

When we commit to crisis response work, we understand recovery means maintaining long-term relationships. Instead of asking our partners to jump through a myriad of hoops and giving prescriptive solutions, we find partners we can radically trust, listen to their analysis of the problems they are seeing, and work together to strategize the best ways forward — and where UUSC can make a significant contribution for lasting impact. In country after country, the value of this approach is evident. Here are a few inspiring examples of our approach in action that I’ve witnessed in working with our tireless friends who continue to advance refugee rights in the Balkans.

  • When the refugee crisis hit Greece in 2015 and thousands were crossing the sea to get to the islands, there was a critical shortage of winterization kits, especially for babies. Our partnerPraksis told me that UUSC’s willingness to support Praksis’ work, “in an open-minded way, without strings” and without difficult constraints was especially important. Praksis’ project was one of the first distributions of winterization kits distributed to babies in Greece.
  • In Hungary, even though Hungarian Helsinki Committee (HHC) had been working with refugee families since 2016, it was not until they received UUSC’s grant that they could afford to actually reunify families, by paying for their flights, accommodation, legal costs, and more. HHC described their family reunification program as the “most meaningful” aspect of their work. Also in Hungary, Cordelia Foundation told us how, “UUSC’s funding saved our lives,” in part because it was offered as general operating support and allowed Cordelia to fill unmet needs and be creative in a time of crisis. Cordelia expressed that this kind of trusting, flexible support was “one of the noblest acts” one can do as a funder.
  • In Croatia, Are You Syrious and Centre for Peace Studies (CMS) are the only groups currently documenting violent and illegal pushbacks at the Croatia-Bosnia border, as well as those being coordinated by governments in the region. And in Serbia, Asylum Protection Center (APC) described to UUSC how crucial our early and ongoing investment was to their work on human rights abuses.

Critically, while this work immediately affected peoples’ lives, the long-term impacts could reverberate for years to come, as our partners have formed close collaborations with each other, helped build and strengthen the refugee rights movement across Europe, documented and publicized often-hidden issues facing refugees in the Balkans, and successfully advocated for long-term policy changes to refugee and asylum policies.

Moreover, UUSC’s response stands in stark contrast to the response of European governments and the European Union (insufficient and counter-productive), and the international humanitarian aid community (short-sighted and short-term). Our recent assessment of our Syrian Crisis work affirmed that our supporters can trust that our efforts around the globe continue to center the voices of affected communities, fill gaps in the mainstream response, and help address systemic injustice on the way to equitable recoveries.

Read part 2 of this series, The Syrian Refugee Crisis: Helping Refugees Acclimate to Their New Lives

Photo: Asylum Protection Center


About UUSC: Guided by the belief that all people have inherent worth and dignity, UUSC advances human rights globally by partnering with affected communities who are confronting injustice, mobilizing to challenge oppressive systems, and inspiring and sustaining spiritually grounded activism for justice. We invite you to join us in this journey toward realizing a better future!

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