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Guest Post

The Afghanistan Crisis - what can we do to help?


We’ve all seen what’s been going on in Afghanistan. Even if you don’t watch the news or read the paper, it’s hard to avoid the floods of posts that have been filling social media the past couple of weeks. It creates mixed feelings in most of us; I always feel a lot of pain as I see the heartbreaking images and tragedies happening, then a fair amount of guilt, as I sit safely in my home while I know others are out there suffering, and then also the overwhelming feeling of helplessness – what can I possibly do to help a problem so large?

You don’t have to understand a situation to feel empathy towards it. For many of us, a world in which our homes, streets, schools and hospitals are bombed and our lives shattered is completely unimaginable – let alone losing people we love over someone else’s battle. I know if it were me in that position, I’d be grabbing my family and whatever else I could, and escaping to the first place of safety – hoping that whichever country it was would welcome me in with open arms. I’ve seen a few people disagree with the idea of helping these people, and to that I would say – no country who emptied supermarket shelves the first sign of panic last year should look down their noses at people fleeing from actual war and terror.

People being forced to flee their homes due to a war they didn’t ask for is no new thing. The UN Refugee Agency estimates that 82.4 million people around the world were forced to flee their homes in 2020, as a result of persecution, conflict, violence, and human rights violations. Many of these people were women and children. I know a lot of us read these stats and think with a heavy heart – what can I possibly do to help? If you’re one of these people, you’re definitely not alone.

A few years ago I started really researching the Refugee Crisis, and steps that can be taken to genuinely help it. We’re all aware of the bake sales that raise money for charity, but where does the money go? Does it help those who really need it? I wanted to find a more hands on way to make sure I was actually helping the people who need it the most. I learned a lot through my research, and I’ve compiled a list of little things you can do to help, that can fit into daily life.

Simple ways you actually can help the Refugee Crisis:

Firstly, please bear in mind that a lot of people coming over will be terrified. They have likely just seen unthinkable horrors, and arrived in a country of a completely different culture where they don’t speak the language. Imagine yourself arriving in an Arab country, for example, with two small children and nothing else, and what you would need. Many of the refugees really benefit from a friendly face.

  – A high number of these people come over with nothing but the clothes on their backs. Gather up any items you may not need anymore and drop them off at your local collection points – they will be taken to both the refugees coming into the U.K, as well as the camps across Europe. An example of some priority items include coats (in all sizes), joggers (size 26-34 waist), trainers (sizes 38-45), backpacks, hoodies, t-shirts, socks and mobile phones.

– Use your weekly shop to your advantage – if you can spare an extra £5 or £10, pick up something that is in high demand. Examples of items in high demand include underwear, bras, boxer shorts (all new), nappies, baby grows, children’s shoes, children’s clothes, and even oyster cards.

– If you have a bike you don’t use, donate it. Many of the people coming over will have no idea how public transport works / have very little money to be able to use it, so a bike can be invaluable for anyone needing to get around. The same applies to prams / travel cots.

  • If you’re at university you can encourage your uni to offer refugee scholarships – many of them have started to already, and it could be your email that ultimately allows refugees access to an education in your area. All it takes is one email sometimes.
  • Donate to Phone Credit for Refugees – access to phone credit can be a lifeline for many – it can help with securing work, finding lost family members – the value of phone credit has no limits really.
  • Join a volunteer group. There are many organisations out there doing remarkable work for the Refugees, and quite often all that is needed is a friendly face, local to a specific area, to perform a simple task. I am part of the Care4Calais group, and some examples of requests they have daily are:

‘Can anyone help a woman in Ealing get an Oyster card tomorrow?’

‘A man in Manchester is unsure how the buses work and needs to get to a job interview next week – can anyone pop down and show him?’

‘There’s a single mother in Brighton who has 4 children and a newborn – does anyone have any spare clothes they can send her?’

‘A new family has moved into Glasgow and are getting confused by the supermarkets – anyone available to help them?’

– If you have a home of your own, you can offer to house a refugee – for a night, week, month or even just to make dinner. Refugees Welcome is a good place to start, and also the IRC work with Airbnb to offer up rooms via their service also.

  • Sign petitions (an oldie but goldie but it really does make a difference!)
  • Support businesses run by refugees (I highly recommend Imad’s Syrian Restaurant as an example – truly remarkable food and he donates part of each meal back to the refugees as well)
  • Get involved with your local church – suggest setting up food parcels / welcome bags for refugees in your area.
  • Offer childcare services – from babysitting, helping out, or even setting up a kid’s club / activity.
  • Write a letter to a refugee to let them know they’re not alone (this is a great one to do with children) – visit CARE and you can send it through them.

– Offer to help a charity with some of their admin work. A lot of the teams are very overwhelmed at the moment, and helping out here can go a long way. Most of it is simple, remote work that can be done to fit around your lifestyle – even just an hour every couple of weeks helps a lot.

And finally, read, listen to and share their stories. Education is power and the more we all know and learn about the Refugee Crisis, the more we can all come together as a community and help. We’re all personally responsible for being more ethical than the society we grew up in, and it’s in our power to make that happen. Have open conversations with your friends, family and children about it, and encourage them to help also. Hope isn’t lost while we still have people who care.

Ultimately, it is down to us as the general population to try and take even a little of the hurt and pain away from the situations the refugees are facing. They are individual people, with their own history and their own lives. Mass media generalising them as ’10,000 refugees’, often takes away from the fact that they are real, diverse, unique individuals, with different personalities and things that make them laugh.

Many were doctors, lawyers, teachers and nurses – they owned cars, houses, had family heirlooms and photo albums. They had favourite foods, an album they loved, and a place they called home. With all of that gone, they will have lost a huge part of who they were as a person.

Of course, we can say it is up to the Government / local councils to sort out the problem (and a lot of it is), but besides sufficient housing and healthcare, these vulnerable populations need kindness, respect, compassion, acceptance, empathy and attention to their basic needs. That falls on us.

As said by Choose Love – ‘It is hell to leave your home and risk everything so your child can be safe. It shouldn’t be hell once you have reached what you thought would be a safe haven.’ There is one reason why it is the people of Afghanistan currently fleeing their homes and not the people of the U.K, and that one reason is luck: the lines on a map should never decide the fate of our lives, or the lives of our children.

I hope this blog post has proven insightful, and provided a couple of ideas as to ways you can genuinely try to help the Refugee Crisis – not just for now but as an ongoing part of your life, wherever you find the time. If we all focus not on building taller walls, but on building longer tables, it will lead to a kinder, more accepting and ultimately better society for us all.

Millie Bicknelle

Millie is a creative writer and illustrator currently based in London. She spent a few years travelling the world, working in all sorts of crazy jobs (including being an Elf for Santa up by the North Pole) and meeting people from all walks of life. Her eyes were opened to a lot of things - things that she wanted to shed light on - so she moved back to England to focus on creative work full time. 

She's also illustrated multiple colouring books, with the aim of being as diverse, inclusive, and empowering as possible, while also staying mindful and focusing on the ultimate self-care. Through these books she donates back to the causes that need it the most, including women's rights and the refugee crisis. 

You can find out more about her on her Instagram and also her website.

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