How Your Frequent Flyer Miles Can Help Refugees & Immigrants (Yes, Really)

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To help refugees and immigrant families flee violence and persecution in their home countries, some organizations are going beyond just monetary donations. In fact, those who travel often can help immigrants and refugees using their frequent flyer miles.

On Monday, University of Michigan law professor Beth Wilensky tweeted about such campaigns. In her tweets, she wrote:

My husband travels a lot. Downside: he's gone a lot. Upside: frequent flyer miles. We just used some to fly a three-year-old and his dad, who had been separated at the border, from Michigan (where the son had been taken) to their extended family. [Directly message] me if you have miles to donate.

Wilensky shared links to two organizations that use frequent flyer miles to fly asylum seekers to their new home countries and reunite families separated or displaced by violence and persecution.

One of Wilensky's linked organizations is Miles4Migrants, a non-profit run by Louisiana-based Seth Stanton and his team. The group describes its mission on their website as "identifying refugees, asylum seekers, and their immediate family members in need via strategic relationships with other non-profit groups." Such refugees, according to the website, "are those that are legally approved by the receiving country’s government to travel for migration and/or family reunification purposes but have financial needs that prevent them from purchasing airfare themselves." Those who want to help can either donate frequent flyer miles or money.

The term "migrants" is a complicated one, and many have said that it doesn't accurately reflect the dire situations refugees and asylum seekers face. Miles4Migrants has made a point to clarify its official name.

"We know, we know," the group's mission statement read. "Miles4Migrants is a misnomer. The people we're helping with flights are actually refugees or asylees and not migrants." From the looks of it, people have poured their miles into Miles4Migrants. The organization tweeted that it received more than three million frequent flyer miles in donations.

Another organization that Wilensky linked to was Michigan Support Circle. The non-profit was founded by Rosalie Lochner and offers a separate donation page for getting involved. If you want to get involved, you can check Michigan Support Circle's volunteer help page where it points to a helpline, updates on Facebook, and an option to donate your frequent flyer miles.

In its mission statement, Michigan Support Circle organizers say that it is "a grassroots organization created to help support the reunification of families by providing rides, housing, clothing and other essentials once the families have been released." The organization works mostly in Michigan and Ohio along with other groups like Migrant Mother Drivers, Strangers No Longer, and Immigrant Families Together.

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Organizers behind the groups have been vocal about why they sought to help migrants. In July, Michigan Support Circle's Lochner told The Washington Post about the arduous and distressing journey of bringing one migrant father and his toddler together.

"I, as a citizen, feel like I am responsible for this policy," Lochner said then, "and am responsible for helping in some small way to change it."