A refugee’s problems can’t be solved overnight. But here are some groups helping them get back on their feet, for a start.
UPDATE (June 17 2020) — We have added more organisations helping refugees that you can support. See the full list here.
In recent years, we have told several stories of organisations doing inspiring work to help refugees.
In the course of telling their stories, we also came across many other groups lending refugees a hand. Because for refugees, fleeing desperate circumstances and losing everything is only the beginning.
Most spend years in flux, dependent on the generosity of countries that do not always want them to stay. Their days are spent awaiting asylum, legal resettlement in a third country, or simply for it to be safe to return to their country.
In the meantime, they often struggle in poor living conditions, have few legal rights, are vulnerable to exploitation, without knowing when any of it will end.
There are nearly 1.2 million refugees and asylum-seekers in Southeast Asia, Bangladesh and Mongolia, according to UNHCR’s 2020 estimates.
Bangladesh has borne the brunt of the Rohingya crackdown in Myanmar’s Rakhine state, with an estimated 910,000 Rohingyas having fled there, as of mid-2019.
Within Southeast Asia, Malaysia has the biggest refugee population — over 177,000 people have sought refuge from countries like Myanmar, Syria and Afghanistan.
Thailand meanwhile, is home to about 97,000 refugees living in camps, many of them ethnic minorities from Myanmar. And Indonesia has close to 14,000 refugees from countries like Afghanistan, Myanmar and Sudan.
If you are wondering whether you can help, the answer is, “yes”. We’ve compiled a list of organisations doing good in this area, to help you get started.
These ground-up efforts are helping refugees with things we often take for granted, such as education, healthcare, and a chance to survive using their skills.
More importantly, they offer hope, acceptance, and a space to be seen and heard.
Support them so they can continue to help refugees find a place to call home once more, wherever that may be.
List of organisations
Know of any organisations doing good to support refugees? Tell us more by leaving a comment!
What they do: Founder Soraya Alkaff has been working with Rohingyas in Malaysia since 2010 through a series of school and education projects. In 2017, she started Cahaya Surya Bakti (CSB) to build on her work, and started partnering UNHCR to implement education programmes in 2018.
The difference they make: CSB currently runs three schools in Johor for Rohingya children, serving 165 students. It also runs health and livelihood initiatives that provide job training and internship opportunities to refugees.
How you can help: Donate to sponsor a child’s schooling expenses, or sign up as a volunteer.
What they do: Cybercare runs development programmes that see volunteers coach and mentor underprivileged youth, with the goal of equipping them with hard skills and confidence. This includes refugee children and youth improving their English language skills, and letting their voices be heard.
The difference they make: Refugee children in Malaysia have little access to formal schooling, setting them back in life. Volunteer tutors help these children gain basic skills and adjust to life in a new country.
How you can help: Volunteer to be a tutor, or make a donation to fund Cybercare’s programmes
What they do: The social enterprise trains refugee women in Malaysia to create a special jewellery line, providing them with the chance to improve their lives. The project is a collaboration with UNHCR’s Made51 initiative, which aims to connect refugee artisans to the global marketplace.
The difference they make: Officially, refugees in Malaysia are not allowed to work, and can spend an average of 13 years in limbo. Earth Heir’s training gives these women a chance at a sustainable income source.
How you can help: Buy a piece of jewellery from Earth Heir’s Made51 collection.
What they do: Fugeelah is an accessories line designed by refugee students from Fugee School in Malaysia. Artisans from marginalised communities make the pieces, to provide them with a sustainable living. Proceeds from Fugeelah go to Fugee School, the students and the artisans.
The difference they make: Refugees in Malaysia have no legal right to attend public schools. Children can spend a decade unschooled and without basic literacy skills, crippling their chances in life. Fugee School provides education — drawn from the Malaysian and Singaporean curricula — for about 160 children, each year. Students are also encouraged to become mentors, to pay it forward.
How you can help: Shop for good at Fugeelah, or donate to Fugee School.
URL: https://fugeelah.com/ and https://fugeeschool.com/
Where: Australia, Cambodia, Indonesia, Myanmar, Philippines, Singapore and Thailand
What they do: JRS is a Catholic organisation that works with people of all beliefs to serve and advocate on the behalf of refugees and forcibly displaced people. In Asia Pacific, JRS has served over 200,000 people, including legal advocacy, providing education and training assistance, and providing financial and material aid to refugees.
The difference they make: JRS’ training and education programmes help displaced persons become more self-reliant and resilient, while their advocacy work creates awareness and fosters social cohesion with local communities.
How you can help: Donate to JRS Asia Pacific or explore volunteering opportunities offered by its network of offices in the region.
What they do: This theatre group sees refugees from Afghanistan perform plays that promote awareness of the realities in Afghanistan, while finding release from the struggles in their daily lives. Plays end with Q&A sessions that allow audiences to learn more about the issues refugees face.
The difference they make: Stuck in limbo, with little certainty as to what the future holds, refugees often feel hopeless and and some suffer from mental health problems. Parastoo gives them a stage to speak up and build their self-confidence, while promoting understanding among the general public.
How you can help: Watch Parastoo’s upcoming play at Refugee Festival in Malaysia on July 1, 2018
What they do: This catering and delivery business comes with a twist — meals are prepared by refugee families, providing them with the chance to support themselves. The social enterprise also organises open houses, where the public can sign up for mouth-watering meals prepared by refugees — ranging from Syrian to Afghan cuisine — and dine with them, to learn more about different cultures.
The difference they make: Refugees have a platform to make use of their skills to support themselves, while the public have a chance to learn more about the life of a refugee, fuelling acceptance.
How you can help: Sign up for an open house, or get your meals catered or delivered by PichaEats
What they do: Founded by a pair of refugees who were volunteering as interpreters for the community, RAIC provides legal aid services to refugees who are often overwhelmed by the legal hoops they must jump through to receive refugee status and apply for resettlement. It also provides care packages, regular eye check-ups, and online resources to help refugees understand their rights.
The difference they make: RAIC helps refugees understand their position and their rights in Indonesia, relieving some of the stress and uncertainty they face. Each month, they see at least 25 legal aid cases, and provide around 100 care packages to refugees,
How you can help: Donate cash to RAIC to fund their work, or donate items like clothing, household items and food to support refugees’ daily needs. RAIC is also seeking volunteers with experience in providing mental health support, event organising, translation, and other skills.
What they do: Refugee Learning Nest and Refugee Learning Center are schools set up by refugees, for refugees, with the support of Same Skies, a non-profit founded in Switzerland. Now fully independent, they provide education and other learning activities for refugee children, in West Java, Indonesia, and also offer adult literacy programmes.
The difference they make: Refugees in Indonesia can spend more than a decade in limbo, waiting to be resettled elsewhere. Schools like these help prevent their children from growing up without basic skills, crushing their potential.
How you can help: Your donation will help these schools make their rent, as well as pay for textbooks and other learning materials.
URL: https://www.refugeelearningnest.com/ and https://www.refugeelearningcenter.com/
What they do: Founded by a Rohingya refugee in 2016, RWDN focuses on supporting Rohingya women and developing their skills so that they can build independent lives, overcoming the patriarchal practices that continue to hinder them even after they have fled Myanmar.
The difference they make: RWDN conducts English classes and trains refugee women in craft skills to create products for sale, 50 per cent of which goes to the women. It also conducts outreach to create awareness of the need to reduce domestic violence and child marriage, which are problems Rohingya women face.
How you can help: Donate or buy a pair of earrings made by women trained by RWDN to fund their work. You can also donate items like sewing machines or volunteer for their outreach programmes.
What they do: A ground-up movement by Singaporeans passionate about the refugee cause, AFR-SG organises awareness campaigns and advocacy, with the goal of eventually bringing about policy changes. Since 2016, it has organised Refugee Awareness Week (RAW) each year to commemorate World Refugee Day. It also tries to engage policy makers through dialogues and parliamentary questions.
The difference they make: By creating awareness and partnerships, AFR-SG creates a place for Singaporeans to learn more about the issue and how to take action
How you can help: Participate in RAW 2020
What they do: A spin-off project from Free Food for All, Food for Change provides regular food aid to war-torn areas in Palestine and Yemen, and raises funds to build a water desalination plant in Gaza, an area where drinkable water is increasingly in short supply.
The difference they make: Beginning with a food distribution project in Rohingya refugee camps in Bangladesh in 2018, Food for Change has offered food aid every year in Palestine and Yemen, including food for 100 families in Gaza for Ramadan in 2020.
How you can help: Donate to Food for Change’s various campaigns
What they do: Relief Singapore organises overseas relief trips to disaster-hit areas and refugee camps to deliver essentials such as medical supplies and water sanitation systems. Volunteers can sign up for such trips to learn more about issues, and provide hands-on support to communities in need.
The difference they make: Since 2013, Relief Singapore has organised 11 trips to various parts of Asia, including two trips to Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, where it is teaching the local community how to play badminton, using recreation to create psychosocial support for refugees.
How you can help: Support Relief Singapore's work by sponsoring relief items, or get connected to find out when their next volunteer trip will be held
What they do: Reyna Movement is a social enterprise dedicated to empowering marginalised women, including refugee women, by providing skills and self-development training. It has started Reyna Centre in Johor, Malaysia, to serve the refugee women community there to help them gain financial independence as they await resettlement.
The difference they make: Through various programmes in Singapore and Malaysia, it has held workshops for over 100 women on self-development and vocational training. And through an educational centre it previously oversaw in Kuala Lumpur, it helped some 50 refugee students.
How you can help: Donate to support Reyna Movement's efforts to help the refugee community in Johor
What they do: Started by Singaporean Gabrielle Tan, Action for Women runs a shelter in Athens, Greece for women refugees who have survived gender-based violence, where they can learn skills to recover from their trauma, and start fresh, independent lives.
The difference they make: Action for Women’s first centre (now shuttered) on the island of Chios served some 19,000 women refugees living in detention camps. Its current centre in Athens serves some 150 women daily, providing non-formal English classes, livelihoods development, legal and psycho-social support.
How you can help: Donate to help Action for Women give women refugees a chance to start a new life
What they do: Started by Singaporean Wee Teck Young, APV runs programmes where Afghan youth can learn and practice skills rooted in non-violence, from building friendships across nationalities, class, race and gender, to developing green spaces in the country, to peaceful conflict resolution. It also runs a school for street kids and an online project for people all over the world to connect with Afghan youth.
The difference they make: Since it started, APV now has about 50 to 70 active volunteers engaged in learning and sharing skills they’ve learnt while continuing to make friends around the world.
How you can help: Connect with Afghan youth and support their journey towards peace through the Relational Learning Project.
Where: Malaysia and Indonesia
What they do: Same Skies is non-profit that supports refugee-led initiatives to address problems faced by refugees. It has supported projects in Malaysia and Indonesia by working closely with refugee communities to identify their needs and guide them in designing their own solutions. It also helps these groups become financially independent and sustainable.
The difference they make: Through the support of Same Skies, refugee-led groups have been able to take action to support their community, staving off the helplessness and depression that often plague refugees. Among the groups supported are Refugee Learning Center and Women Empowerment Project Ipoh.
How you can help: Donate to Same Skies or the organisations they support, in cash or in kind.
Where: Lebanon, where over a million refugees from Syria live.
What they do: Threads of Syria is a not-for-profit initiative under which 25 Syrian refugees in the Chatila camp in Lebanon create hand-knit scarves for sale, with all profits going directly to the refugees. It is supported by social enterprise Tight-Knit Syria and Artisan and Fox, a Singapore-based online marketplace selling ethically produced goods made by artisans worldwide.
The difference they make: More than 5 million Syrians have been displaced worldwide since the conflict in Syria began in 2011. Many of them are left to fend for themselves in impoverished, sometimes dangerous circumstances. Threads of Syria provides this informal women’s knitting co-operative in Lebanon a flexible form of work to earn an income and support their families.
How you can help: Buy a scarf and help these refugees stand on their own feet.