Ways to Help Refugees (That Aren't Resettlement)

Resettlement isn’t the only way to help refugees. In fact, it may not even be the best way to help the more than 20 million refugees that exist in the world today. In this article I’ll explain why resettlement is limited in its ability to help refugees, I’ll outline some alternatives ways to help refugees, and I’ll share how you can support refugees more holistically.

The Limitations of Resettlement

Refugee resettlement refers to the international program that relocates refugees from the country to which they first fled to a third country. This process involves dozens of interviews and medical and background security checks. The resulting relocation is almost always permanent. Every year less than one percent of refugees are approved for resettlement to a third country. This percentage is unlikely to increase for several reasons.

The process of resettlement is very time and labor intensive and requires coordination between UNHCR staff, government officials and others. Since the Paris attacks of November 2015 there have also been growing concerns about the effectiveness of resettlement vetting procedures. Though these fears are almost entirely unfounded, they do make it unlikely that countries like the US will increase the number of places they offer for resettlement any time soon. European countries have also participated in resettlement in the past, but now their governments are overwhelmed by millions of asylum seekers crossing the Mediterranean and resettlement has been pushed to a back burner.

Alternatives to Resettlement

Thankfully, there are alternative ways to help refugees that have the capacity to assist far more people, perhaps in a shorter period of time. Refugees are considered for resettlement only when these alternative solutions have been ruled out as possibilities.


Repatriation refers to the return of a refugee to their home country, but this can only happen if conditions in their home country are safe. Refugees do not choose to leave their homes; they are forced to flee. The vast majority of refugees would return home in a heartbeat if it was safe for them to do so. Unfortunately, many of the conflicts and persecution that have caused refugees to flee have not been resolved. Situations like the Syrian civil war must come to a peaceful end before refugees can safely return to rebuild their homes and lives.

Host Country Integration

A host country is the first country to which a refugee flees. For example, Lebanon, Turkey, and Jordan are host countries for Syrian refugees because they border Syria. Host country integration refers to a process in which refugees no longer live in camps and are allowed to integrate into the society of the host country. This process requires the permission of the host country government so that refugees can secure work permits and enroll their children in school. Host country integration usually works best if the refugee population that needs to be integrated is a fairly small percentage of the country’s entire population.

How to Support Refugees Holistically

This year President Trump will allow 50,000 refugees to be resettled in the US. In relation to more than 20 million refugees around the world, that is a drop in the ocean. Approximately 25% of all the refugees in the world are Syrians. Unfortunately, host country integration is not really a viable solution for them because of their large numbers. In Lebanon 1 in 4 residents is a refugee, which is overwhelming to the economy and infrastructure of an already struggling country. For Syrian refugees repatriation is the only possible long-term solution.

Petition the Government

This means that in order to support refugees holistically, we need to urge our government leaders and representatives to seek a solution to the Syrian civil war. We need to urge our government to partner with other nations to put an end to the killing and work hard to reach a peace agreement. If we don’t, more people will die, more people will be displaced, and the refugee crisis will only worsen. We can also petition our government to increase foreign aid to countries like Jordan and Lebanon who are struggling to support the vast majority of refugees.

Be Generous With Your Finances

Countries like Lebanon, Jordan, and Turkey are overwhelmed by the hundreds of thousands of refugees seeking safety within their borders. NGOs are working hard to alleviate this burden, but their budgets are often tight. Consider giving a monthly monetary gift to an NGO working with refugees overseas. This can make a significant difference for refugees who will never be given the opportunity to be resettled.

Advocate for Refugee Resettlement

Finally, after you have contacted your government representatives and considered giving to NGOs working with refugees in host countries, continue to advocate for refugee resettlement. Even if President Trump were to double or triple the number of refugees resettled in the US, it would still be miniscule compared to the global need. However, for those few who are given the opportunity to begin new lives in our communities, it makes an indescribable difference.

These are just a few ways to help refugees, but they highlight the fact that resettlement only affects a very small number of people who are seeking refuge. If you support refugee resettlement, but have been frustrated by the changes to the program implemented by President Trump’s executive order, I hope that you will consider these alternatives ways to help refugees holistically.