Erica Eastley first learned about refugees when she visited Palestinian refugee camps and met an Iraqi refugee family in Jordan twenty years ago. Since then she's been an advocate for refugee resettlement, especially with the recent worldwide refugee crisis. She currently lives in the Middle East.
One day about five years ago my family took a marshrutka (minibus) in Kyrgyzstan from Bishkek to the small city we were living in about an hour outside the capital. Marshrutkas are always a bit of an adventure but one of the best parts of those hour-long rides was talking to people riding with us. Sometimes we’d find someone we already knew, but an American family with three children sticks out on a marshrutka so people would often start asking us questions and we’d chat in English, Russian, or Uzbek and Kyrgyz.
That day we happened to sit behind a man who was riding to Kant, another small city about 20 minutes from Bishkek. He told us he was a refugee from Afghanistan and pulled out his UNHCR documentation. He had recently been resettled in Kyrgyzstan with his family where he was trying to make a living to support them.
I have had many opportunities in my life to meet and volunteer with refugees, both in their homes and in camps in the US and the Middle East. But it’s that man from Afghanistan, resettled in Kyrgyzstan, a country I knew all too well couldn’t give him the support he needed, who represents what it means to be a refugee. He had so little control over his life.
In March and April, our church leaders asked us, and especially the women of the church, to support refugees in our communities. Many people have donated their time, talents, money, and passion to this effort to work with refugees since then. But now I hope we can recommit to the refugee relief effort with the recent political changes in the US. The worldwide refugee crisis is not getting any better and it is so important that we do everything we can to support refugees.
There are still many ways you can help. A lot of these suggestions are geared toward the US but many work anywhere if there are refugees in your area. First, make sure any refugees and immigrants in your area know that you want them there. Even a smile makes a big difference. If possible, contact an organization in your area that works with refugees and immigrants. With the holiday season coming, many organizations have more needs than usual and some creative ways to help. Follow their Facebook pages to stay updated on their needs. These links can give you some ideas of how to get started.
Next, talk to your friends and community. Kindly correct misinformation about refugees and try to get the facts out about refugee resettlement. Educate yourself. There are many ways to do this, but these are two resources I have created to help people understand the refugee resettlement process.
Work locally. Contact your city council members and tell them you welcome refugees in your town. Call them, talk to them at a city council meeting, send a letter. Encourage like-minded friends to do the same. You can make a difference and if local communities are asking for refugees to come to their towns, it can help keep them coming to the US.