Holly Harper | Contributing Writer | Thursday, 3 September 2015

From Online Petitions To Volunteering -  Here’s What You Can Do To Help The Refugee Crisis

From Online Petitions To Volunteering - Here’s What You Can Do To Help The Refugee Crisis

The Debrief: As yet more stories of human tragedy unfold, is there anything to be done at home?

In the midst of a worsening and ever-hopeless refugee crisis, it’s the good people of Twitter who have taken it upon themselves to inspire change and take action. Testament to the power of social media, the overwhelming response to an online petition means that the question of the UK government’s responsibility in the crisis will be debated in Parliament upon its return from summer recess. 

The petition itself – asking the Government to ‘accept more asylum seekers and increase support for refugee migrants’ – comes a day after David Cameron announced that his government’s policy towards Syrian refugees wouldn’t change, despite growing pressure from politicians across the politican spectrum, and the general public.

As the human tragedy at the heart of this crisis becomes ever clearer and the government’s response remains inadequate, here are a few things we can do to help at home:

The language we use to discuss the crisis

Our hostility towards the crisis is undoubtedly an ugly consequence of the provocative language of fear that has surrounded so many discussions of it. Dehumanising language has fuelled a careless disregard for the humanity behind the crisis, a notable example being David Cameron’s description of the thousands of refugees in Calais as a ‘swarm’.

Language like this has allowed an indefensibly hostile attitude to prevail. While Germany expects up to 800,000 refugees to pass its borders this year, Cameron has refused to take more than 1,000. At the most basic level, it is this language of fear and ‘other’ that has allowed us to shirk responsibility for a crisis that requires the input of all the developed nations in Europe. 

Donating what you can…

Whether it’s money, clothes, food, or even books, an inspiring number of grassroots groups have been set up in the last few months to deal with the poor conditions and overcrowding in the camps across Europe. From A Jungle Library, to an Amazon wish list, to hundreds of vehicles packed with aid driving to Calais, there’s now a multitude of charities and initiatives that desperately need donations and publicity. 

Volunteering with a humanitarian organisation 

Many of these charities are also in need of volunteers to help with their efforts. While there are groups already set up to organise local aid across Britain, like Calais Migrant Solidarity, many people have decided to take it upon themselves to collect and deliver aid to Calais.

An initiative called the Hummingbird Project also works to organise individual aid efforts, a worthwhile way to get involved in alleviating the pressure put on official aid projects.

Signing a petition 

Although it’s easy to be cynical about the impact of signing a petition, which can seem an ineffectual, half-hearted method of protest, it’s at moments like this when they’re one of our most powerful tools. At one point this morning, more than 1,000 people were signing the UK Parliament petition every minute.

With more than 200,000 supporters, a number that is still fast increasing, this petition has succeeded in forcing those in power to debate this issue with urgency. 


There is no better way of expressing popular dissatisfaction than by mobilising people in protest. Although this method of action doesn’t guarantee any kind of governmental response, it provides visible proof of opposition – a scary reality for any government. On 12 September, tens of thousands of people will march in Solidarity with Refugees, a demonstration that hopes to gain the attention of government before EU talks take place. 

In a crisis so overwhelmingly hopeless, it’s important that we carry on doing whatever we can to help. Although we cannot hope to solve the tragedy, we can hope to reduce its size and offer hope to the many thousands of people that are still risking their lives on this perilous journey across Europe. 

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Follow Holly on Twitter @hollharps

Tags: Politics