The World Seems To Only Care About Refugees When They're Olympians

There are 65 million people displaced worldwide, and all of them are worthy of attention and support.

11/08/2016 2:12 AM IST | Updated 11/08/2016 9:00 PM IST

While refugees competing in the Olympics are getting cheered on, those who aren’t in the spotlight can expect chilly reactions. 

Team Refugees got a standing ovation during the games’ opening ceremony. People have been closely following their successes, such as that of Yusra Mardini, a Syrian refugee who swam for hours to help a sinking boat of migrants safely reach shore, and who finished first in her 100-meter Olympic swimming heat.

And yet, while the first team of refugees to compete in the Olympics is certainly worth celebrating, the world only seems to care about refugees when they’re competing for the gold, New York Times columnist Roger Cohen pointed out.

“Yes, the world is moved by Team Refugees. Yet, it is unmoved by refugees,” Cohen wrote. “Fences are erected, walls mooted. Posters decry them. They represent danger and threaten disruption.

“Rightist political parties thrive by scapegoating them. Nobody wants refugees,” Cohen added.  

Anadolu Agency via Getty Images
Demonstrators gather in front of a railway station under the banner 'We for Berlin - We for Germany' to protest against German Chancellor Angela Merkel's refugee policy on July 30, 2016, in Berlin, Germany.

The world is facing the worst refugee crisis since World War II, with 65 million people being forced from home. Among them are nearly 21.3 million refugees, according to the UN. 

As the refugee crisis has grown in Europe, right-wing, anti-immigrant parties have also grown in turn. People in the Netherlands have staged protests against asylum-seekers, and more than 40 percent of Germans surveyed this year said Muslims should be forbidden from entering the country.

It seems that people worldwide are willing to cheer for refugees when they’re racing in Olympic pools, but not quite as much when they’re running for their lives. Here’s how we can do more than just cheer from the sidelines.

1. Support Refugee Moms Making Treacherous Journeys

Anadolu Agency via Getty Images
Turkish coast guards pull an Afghan refugee, 8.5 months pregnant, into a Coast Guard ship, during a rescue operation for the refugees trying to reach Greece through the Aegean Sea with an overloaded inflatable boat.

All refugees journeying to Europe face trying conditions, but mothers and mothers-to-be face particularly challenges odds. A lack of basic resources in camps and settlements ― like food, clean water and healthcare ― makes it hard for moms to care for themselves and their children. That’s why a number of organizations are focusing on this vulnerable group. 

Nonprofit Carry The Future, for instance, hand-delivers baby carriers to refugee families arriving in Greece. Save the Children is also working in Greece, distributing baby kits with diapers and blankets to refugee families, according to their website.

Support Carry The Future here and Save The Children here. For more ways to help refugee moms, look here.


2. Help Refugees Displaced By The Syrian War

Muhammad Hamed / Reuters
Syrian refugees wait to board a Jordanian army vehicle after crossing into Jordanian territory with their families.

There are 4.8 million Syrian refugees, according to the U.N. ― and the vast majority of them are hosted by neighboring countries like Jordan and Turkey.

UNHCR is providing assistance to displaced Syrians, both in the country and the surrounding region. The organization is delivering food, medicine, and household items like diapers and hygiene supplies, according to its CrowdRise page.  

A donation of $30 to the organization can help provide thermal blankets to three refugees, and a donation of $50 provides sleeping bags for a family.

To support UNHCR’s efforts to help Syrian refugees, donate here


3. Support People Displaced By Conflicts Worldwide

Luc Gnago / Reuters
Nigerian refugees and displaced Nigeriens gather at a site for displaced persons in southeastern Niger, on June 18, 2016.

While much attention has been paid to refugees from Syria, those displaced by the Syrian war represent only a fraction of all refugees worldwide. Around the world, there are more than 65 million displaced people, according to the U.N.

A number of organizations are helping people who’ve had to flee their homes.

UNICEF focuses on supporting children displaced by conflicts. An estimated 30 million children worldwide are fleeing violence, poverty, or both, according to the organization. The aid group helps refugee children from Syria, Iraq, Mali, and other countries, by delivering supplies and creating safe spaces for kids.

The International Rescue Committee (IRC) provides aid to people in emergency situations, such as war or natural disasters, by delivering healthcare, sanitation and other services. The IRC also works in the U.S. to help refugees adjust to life in a new country. Last year, the organization, and its partners, served more than 23 million people worldwide, and helped resettle 9,961 new refugees in the U.S.

To support UNICEF’s work with displaced children, donate here. To support IRC’s work helping refugees worldwide and those resettling in the U.S., donate here.

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