How To Help Syrian Refugees In A Concrete Way, Even If Your State Governor Won't

Throughout the last week, a creeping, dreadful fascination has taken hold within American politics: fear-mongering about Syrian refugees who're trying to legally emigrate to the United States, so to escape the same kinds of brutal, terroristic violence that France experienced last week. It is, simply put, a frightening and depressing moment. But there's always a way to do some tangible good — so here's exactly how to help the Syrian refugees, even as the forces of demagoguery and cheap political expediency are besieging them.

The panicky response, a genuine failure throughout the U.S. government to think critically, much less empathetically, has persisted even though America is only looking to welcome 10,000 or so Syrian refugees out of millions — a pittance compared to, say, what Germany is doing. Even though going through the years-long refugee screening process would be a markedly inconvenient strategy for a terrorist. And even though there's no evidence yet that the Paris attacks had anything to do with Syrian refugees — to the contrary, one of the attackers was in possession of a faked Syrian passport.

All in all, geopolitical strife and the outsized response it's caused has made the future horribly uncertain, for a group of people who've already lost their homes to the horrors of war. Here are some ways you can donate your time and money to make a positive difference.

1. Donate Your Money

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If you've got disposable income, and you're looking for a cause to donate to, consider offering some aid to the staggering number of Syrians who no longer have a country to call home. There are a slew of international aid organizations that have well-established track records, and they can help you actually do something positive with your fistful of extra cash this holiday season. Some possibilities:

  • Médecins Sans Frontières (or Doctors Without Borders) is one of the world's foremost international medical aid organizations, and they're operating rescue ships in the Mediterranean to help save and protect fleeing refugees in the region. And their commitment to their mission is demonstrably beyond reproach — they were running the hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan that was lethally bombed by a U.S. airstrike.
  • UNICEF, the United Nations Children's Fund, has for years been a hallmark of international aid — it's possible you remember your school handing out little UNICEF boxes to collect donations while Trick or Treating on Halloween. And just as the name implies, they're doing great work to try to alleviate the suffering of refugee children and their families.
  • The Mercy Corps, which specializes in providing food, water, and shelter to the victims of the years-long Syrian civil war, as well as "community development," as their website details: "Bringing refugees and host community members together with trainings to ease tensions, identify joint problems and work together on projects like building playgrounds and expanding schools to meet their collective needs."

2. Fight Anti-Muslim, Anti-Refugee Attitudes At Home

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If you're politically active, you might already be aware of this, but it always bears mentioning: if nobody speaks out against the surge of anti-refugee paranoia that's been whipped up over the last week, there's nothing to stop it from becoming deeply entrenched, and taking us all to some pretty dark places. After all, we've got major party candidates for president advocating that we register and monitor people based on their religion in national databases, and on Thursday, the House voted to effectively block the refugees, including dozens of Democrats. President Obama has already indicated his intention to veto the bill if necessary.

Regardless, it's a grim picture, and it won't be turned around without putting in the hard, person-to-person work of challenging people's ideas and assumptions. You can do all the usual, rote political things, of course — write your congressperson, and all that, especially if they voted for that House bill — but also, be sure to advocate within your own community, and even your own family.

For example, a controversial piece of advice: if you're sitting at Thanksgiving dinner this year, and some extended family so-and-so starts complaining about Syrian refugees, don't just let it go. Take up the cause — do it calmly and respectfully, sure, but with obviously moral passion. I know, I know, you're not supposed to spoil family dinner with politics. But some moral causes go well beyond the importance of turkey or yams.

3. Make Humane Refugee Policies A Voting Priority

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One the reason the refugee issue has been so quickly and crudely demagogued is that we're in the midst of a presidential race — in particular, a primary chock-full of rancorous Republican candidates who're eager to find new ways to distinguish their bona fide right-wing ideals.

But, as mentioned above, it's not just the Republicans. A whopping 47 Democratic representatives voted to strongly (perhaps prohibitively) tighten the refugee program on Thursday, including John Garamendi and Janice Hahn of California, Steve Israel and Louise Slaughter of New York, Marcy Kaptur of Ohio, and Patrick Murphy of Florida.

In other words, if this bothers you — if you're a progressive, perhaps, one who'd normally be voting Democratic at the state and national levels — it's time to send an unapologetic message. Do not vote for anybody who supported this bill, and do not support any presidential candidate who waffles on the moral necessity to harbor innocent refugees. After all, to borrow a line that long-shot candidate Martin O'Malley has been using for months: "The enduring symbol of our nation is not the barbed-wire fence, it is the Statue of Liberty."