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The World’s Refugee Crisis

June 17, 2016

Yes, there is something you can do

There have never been more people forced from their homes in human history than there are today. Throughout the world, there are nearly 58,000,000 refugees, asylum seekers, and people displaced within their own countries. If they were grouped together into a country, it would have the 24th largest population in the world. The crisis is that big.

But it’s also a crisis that is as local as the refugee family living in your hometown, and the needs of your neighbors are as current as those faced by people crossing the Mediterranean to Europe, or trusting their fate to human traffickers as they escape from Central America to the United States. Sadly, the story of the world’s refugees must compete for headlines with the hate speech that passes for serious political discourse.

UUSC has been dedicated to helping refugees since 1939, when Rev. Waitstill Sharp and his wife Martha left their home in Wellesley, Massachusetts, to assist refugees trying to escape Nazi terror.

The Sharps learned they couldn’t address the needs of European refugees fleeing Hitler without the help of many others, so they founded an organization large enough to make a difference. Today, this organization – UUSC – has also learned that we cannot make a difference without the help of committed individuals. Today, we invite you to join us.

How you can get involved

“Despite what people might think, the global refugee crisis isn’t far away. People here in the United States have an opportunity to get involved. There are horrendous abuses happening close by – in detention centers and our country’s judicial system – and there are refugees who need help integrating into our society even as they heal from the trauma of leaving homes and loved ones behind.”  – Jillian Tuck, UUSC Senior Program Leader for Rights at Risk

The UUSC Refugee Rapid Response Network is a community open to everyone, dedicated to protecting refugee human rights worldwide. As a member, you can take action to welcome refugees to your community, assist them while they are in peril in detention centers or our nation’s legal system, or advocate on their behalf with federal, state, and local government officials. A comprehensive online Refugee Toolkit offers ideas and  detailed planning guides for ways to help, including:

For those who are in a position to make a two to four week commitment to travel abroad, the UU College of Social Justice (a joint program of UUSC and the Unitarian Universalist Association) and its partner organization Lighthouse Relief are seeking volunteers for a number of skilled roles at Greek refugee camps. The skills they require include:

  • Language skills in Arabic, Farsi, Kurdish, and/or Greek
  • Maternal and reproductive health professionals
  • Diving or rock climbing skills to help clear debris from coastal areas
  • Accounting skills

For more information, visit

Why your help is needed

Today’s refugees face challenges far different from those in the past, and their needs are changing quickly. Here in the United States, anti-immigrant bigotry and racism are creating barriers not seen in generations. Department of Homeland Security “enforcement operations” can break up families and send people back to countries where they have no home and may be in danger of losing their lives.

Escape routes from Syria, Afghanistan, and Iraq that once went through the Balkans are closing, replaced by paths through Turkey, Greece, Lebanon, and Jordan. Refugees from these countries are now likely to be displaced for 17 years or longer – long enough to require a different strategy than building self-contained camps with the temporary provision of shelter, food, health, and education services. Many of these refugees are skilled professionals, qualified for full integration into society as valued employees or business owners. However, in most countries, they face restrictions on their ability to find employment. A comprehensive strategy for protecting the human rights of refugees must include their right to earn a living in their new home countries.

Whether you choose to organize a welcoming event, speak out against bigotry and racism, or advocate for refugee rights with your elected representatives, you can help your refugee neighbors advance their human rights today.

The Work We Do: UUSC and its Partner Organizations

“The headlines call it the ‘Syrian Refugee Crisis,’ but it’s important to remember that refugees come from all over the world. Iraqis and Afghanis have been forced to leave their homes by conflict, and once they’re displaced, they are subject to the same denial of their human rights. When borders are closed, no one can pass, no matter where they once called home.”

In 2016, UUSC and its grassroots partner organizations work to address the worldwide needs of refugees in three ways:

  • Our Refugee Crisis Partners provide humanitarian aid to people fleeing Middle Eastern conflicts along the European migration route.
  • Our Migrant Justice Partners support migrants and refugees from the Northern Triangle of Central America and Mexico, and seek to mitigate the root causes of the violence that threatens them at home and throughout their journeys.
  • In Africa, our Refugee Right to work Partner Asylum Access Tanzania (AATZ) works to remove barriers to employment by advocating for more welcoming laws and regulations, and by debunking myths that refugees will drain resources from national human service systems, emphasizing the value of refugees as future “success stories” in their new host country.

Click here to learn more about UUSC’s work with refugees around the world.

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