By Ludovica Pizzichelli
This year World Refugee Day is landing during Ramadan! I decided to make a list of 10 of my favorite or most suggested organizations helping refugees and migrants. Some of them I have directly worked with or have donated to, and others have been suggested to me by many volunteers who have worked with them firsthand. I posted in a group of volunteers in Greece and got about 78 comments of suggested organizations to include– one volunteer even sent me a list of 39 organizations! Unfortunately, I decided to keep the number to 10 organizations in order to have time to provide more information on each one and provide a diverse list as many of the suggested organizations were working only in Greece.
I did my research on each one, making sure they were good, grassroots organizations using donations appropriately. The organizations I wrote about below offer all kinds of help, from baby carriers, to community support in Syria, to backpacks full of supplies for refugee children. There are plenty of large organizations that are doing amazing work: UNHCR, Doctors Without Borders, and more, but I decided to bring focus to the small organizations that are making a world of difference with the little resources they have. Take a look and please consider donating to one or more of these organizations in honor of World Refugee Day or for your Ramadan zakat.
Carry the Future supplies baby carriers and baby supplies to refugee families and is situated in California. It is 100% run by volunteers, so the money or supplies you donate goes directly to refugee families. Right now they are creating boxes of baby supplies and their goal is to create and send out 200 boxes by World Refugee Day. They also sell merchandise to raise money and are on the Charity Miles app if you want to support them but don’t have the economic means to do so. I bought a shirt from them and wear it almost every week, it is a very active and transparent organization and I’m happy to support them.
Immigration Equality is the largest LGBTQ immigrant rights foundation in the United States and it has been around since 1994. It provides free legal services and assistance to LGBTQ and HIV-positive refugees and immigrants and helps to reunite separated families. They also have created a pro bono law firm network. Truly an amazing organization that focuses on helping some of the most vulnerable refugees and migrants.
I’ve been volunteering with the Joel Nafuma Refugee Center in Rome, Italy for more than 2 years now. The JNRC is a day center that provides refugees and migrants with legal help, employment opportunities, psychotherapeutic assistance, clothes and toiletries, recreation and daily breakfasts. It hosts volunteers from all over the world and is a safe space for many refugees in downtown Rome. Not only that, but with its Welcome the Stranger campaign, volunteers are working to end the stigma against refugees and migrants not only in Italy but around the world. The JNRC has become like a second family to me and the volunteers are so dedicated. You can donate money or supplies the organization lists under its wish list if you feel more comfortable with that.
Are You Syrious is an organization based in Croatia focused on helping Syrian refugees both in Croatia, Slovenia, Serbia, and in Syria. They bring aid from their 4 warehouses to refugees in transfer camps and organize flea markets and other activities to raise money to purchase the aid. The organization is composed of about 40 regular volunteers and about 250 that are coming and going. They are currently not asking for donations but it is a good organization to follow.
Hand in Hand for Syria is an incredible organization based in the UK that works directly inside Syria, bringing in medical and humanitarian aid to 90% of the country, even behind the front lines where most other organizations cannot legally go. The aid they bring is incredibly diverse: education, medical, food, water, sanitation, & and organize community projects. They purchase most of their aid in Turkey and Syria so a little bit of money goes a long way. Their administration costs in the UK are covered by Gift Aid and their costs in Turkey and Syria are covered by their partnerships, so when you donate, the full amount of your donation goes into buying supplies. As they say on their website, “If you donate £1 to Hand in Hand for Syria, £1 goes into Syria.” The organization also focuses on establishing sustainable aid through community empowerment projects in Syria which also offer employment for Syrians. Right now they are organizing the campaign for Ramadan: Every Meal Together, where you can buy a cooked meal for a Syrian family, a food basket for a family of six, and an opportunity to dedicate your Zakat to Syrians.
Based in Sweden, Lighthouse Relief provides emergency relief for refugees that arrive on the Greek island of Lesvos and in Greek mainland refugee camps. The organization focuses on the most vulnerable groups: children, women, and the elderly. 100% of your donation goes directly to the operations that supply the humanitarian aid, and the organization has many skilled volunteers. This organization also provides “eco relief”: environmental cleanup to help Lesvos stay clean.
This group of women on Lesvos created Dirty Girls to clean wet and dirty clothes, sleeping bags, and blankets discarded by refugees arriving by boat on the island and redistribute them. Their washing machines operate 24/7 and they clean supplies for 54,000 people in the official and unofficial camps all over Greece, situating the organization not only on Lesvos but also in Athens. As of now, they clean about 3000 blankets each week. This organization has been suggested to me countless times by volunteers on the ground in Greece. By keeping clothes and blankets from being thrown away, Dirty Girls not only helps refugees but the environment as well!
Another organization suggested to me by countless volunteers on the ground is Operation Refugee Child, based in Tustin, California. ORC distributes backpacks full of necessities to refugee children and families. In this year alone, ORC plans to distribute 10,000 backpacks to refugees in need. Their backpacks are filled with stuffed animals, baby supplies, plastic dinnerware, food, mosquito nets, clothing, light sources, and first aid kits among other things — even halal jerky! You can sponsor a backpack through their Indiegogo, donate, or buy from their Amazon wishlist if that makes you more comfortable.
Together for Better Days started out at the Olive Grove Camp at Moria, a transit camp and registration point for refugees arriving in Greece. However, due to the EU-Turkey refugee deal, the registration camp became a detention center and TFBD had to leave and relocate to the mainland. It has no funding and relies on donations to operate, using them to upgrade infrastructure, facilities, and communal kitchens at mainland refugee camps, and the donations go straight to buying supplies. You can donate “in-kind” as well.
One volunteer on Facebook wrote “I can not recommend Better days for Moria now know as Together for Better Days enough. They worked tirelessly to transform the olive grove outside the main registration center on the island into a colorful sanctuary bringing together a variety of volunteers and organizations to provide 24/7 medical aid and dry cloths as well as hot meals and tea and a safe space for children and so much more.”
Northern Lights Aid has been suggested to me by plenty of volunteers in Greece. The organization is based in Sweden and started out working on Lesvos but now is at Idomeni, near Greece’s border with Macedonia. Northern Lights Aid brings basic necessities to the Hotel Hara camp, distributing hygiene products, clothing, tents, blankets, and sleeping bags. The organization prioritizes refugee children, organizing activities for them along with cleaning up the camp.