Many of us have felt heartsick, seeing images of families fleeing the Middle East and making their way over land and water in search of a better life. The inevitable questions come: how can we help, from here in Austin? If we give money, how can we be sure it’s making its way to help on the ground? What organizations are working directly with refugees, both in the short and long-term?
I’m lucky to have a friend, Erika Humke, who is the Program Specialist at iACT for Refugees, right here in Austin, to ask these questions. She shared with me that the United States resettles 70,000 refugees each year, and that about 10% of them end up in Texas. Austin alone receives over 1,500 refugees each year. If you’d like to help at the international level, Erika recommends donating money to agencies like the UNHCR, which is the UN’s refugee agency. UNHCR humanitarian workers are working in Italy, Greece, Serbia, Hungary, Turkey and other countries in Europe to receive and assist the new refugee arrivals fleeing countries affected by violence and conflict. At the same time, the agency continues to provide aid and services in Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey and across Africa where refugees are facing food cuts and insufficient critical support services.
To help organizations based or working locally with refugee resettlement, housing, job skills and more, consider making a donation to or volunteering with one of these organizations:
Caritas of Austin – Caritas of Austin provides the immediate needs for safety, food, and housing and links refugees to resources leading to their self-sufficiency in 3-6 months. Those resources include healthcare, English language training, financial assistance, transportation, education, immigration, employment and community services.
Center for Survivors of Torture – CST provides free mental health and social services to refugees and asylum seekers who have suffered torture and trauma before fleeing their countries. With free mental health treatment from licensed professionals, survivors can overcome the devastating effects of torture and trauma to live healthy, productive lives. CST’s free counseling and social services programs help survivors heal from the impact of torture and trauma so they can begin to rebuild their lives.
Circle of Health International – We are organizing our response to meet the needs of mothers and babes caught in the chaotic refugee crisis that is mounting in Europe, and will do so with love and compassion. COHI sends volunteer field teams to assist women in crisis zones. COHI aligns itself with local, community based organizations led and powered by women. We respond to the requests of these leaders, who are best suited to know and advise on the needs of the women and children that they serve.
Interfaith Action for Central Texas (iACT) – iACT teaches English as a Second Language and cultural skills to newly-arrived refugees. iACT’s adult ESL program serves over 700 refugees a year from about 15 different nations. With morning and evening class sites, the program offers the refugee population year-round classes for up to five years after their arrival in the United States. A monthly cultural orientation and lunch program allows the Austin community to meet and connect with the refugee population in their midst. iACT’s youth program, iLearn, provides English and math instruction, cultural orientation, and outdoor recreation to over 50 refugee youths every summer. This is followed up with academic support during the following school year as well.
Multicultural Refugee Coalition – We are a long term ethnically driven support network for refugees settled to the Austin area from around the world. Our programs include computer literacy, job skills, sewing, crocheting, a children’s program, gardening and soccer.
Refugee Services of Austin – RST Austin is affiliated with Church World Service and Episcopal Migration Ministries to provide services to refugees and asylees and works in partnership with the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants to serve survivors of trafficking. RST Austin primarily serves newly arrived refugees with their initial resettlement into the local community. The STEP program provides services to domestic and foreign survivors of trafficking. Our office also offers comprehensive supplementary programs designed for long term integration and on-going support.