If you’re looking for an opportunity to travel the world and make a true difference, while meeting new people with fascinating life journeys, working as a refugee relief volunteer may be the ideal position for you. Every day people around the world are forced out of their homes due to political turmoil or threats of persecution; these people are welcomed into neighboring countries as refugees creating a need for refugee work abroad. The UN estimates there are as many as 40 million refugees worldwide, people who have lost their homes, their livelihoods, and must develop new languages and new skills in order to build a new life.
Why Volunteer Abroad
Refugee relief volunteers are in high demand, due to the astronomically high number of refugees spread across the world. Refugee camps exist in almost every country in the world, though their numbers fluctuate depending on the current political climate.
Refugees are often forgotten people in need, those turned away from their homes and sometimes their own countries, because of this refugee relief organizations are often understaffed, hence there is a need for refugee relief volunteers.
Refugee work abroad rises in demand when a new conflict arises and people are in need of immediate aid. Refugee relief volunteers truly make a difference in these time sensitive situations. Volunteers that work with refugee charities abroad are in high-demand as well, as acts such as fundraising and other organizational tasks are hugely helpful when the need for financial support is needed quickly.
If you’re earning a degree in counseling, social work, or sociology, refugee work abroad will be a priceless experience. You will get a chance to interact with refugee families, help them process how their lives have quickly changed, and help them move forward into the future, however uncertain it may be. This hands on experience with victims of conflict is an altruistic journey unlike any other.
Refugee camps truly do exist almost anywhere in the world, but areas of political, racial, or religious conflict, are the most active areas. Therefore, the requirements and placements available for international volunteers in refugee relief centers can change often.
Currently, one of the largest political crises is in Syria, and an estimated nine million people have fled to neighboring countries, such as Turkey, Lebanon, and Iraq. The largest Syrian refugee settlement created by the Syrian Civil War is in Urfa, Turkey. However, those who were able to seek Asylum in Europe have done so, leaving most of these individuals to resettle in Germany.
The four largest refugee camps in the world exist in Kenya, to shelter Somali refugees. Some refugees in this area have been displaced since 1991, after the fall of a political regime, leaving various opportunities to work with refugees. These settlements are permanent homes for some, and thus well established and safe places for working with refugees overseas. Somali refugee settlements are also located in Ethiopia. To date, the majority of the world’s largest refugee camps are related to the Somalia crisis.
A large number of Sri Lankan refugees, fleeing from the Civil War that ended in 2009 or the subsequent human rights violations, often land in India or New Zealand. Settlements in this area are fairly new, but also locations for working with refugees overseas. In this same region of the world, there are also many opportunities to volunteer in refugee relief in Thailand with Burmese refugees.
The most popular method for becoming a refugee relief volunteer is by signing up with an organization, charity, or government-run initiative and requesting a location of interest. Often several settlements serve the same nationality of refugee or exist because of a local crisis, so although you may not receive the exact location you request the area, crises, or nation you have been assigned will reflect your stated interests whenever possible.
Refugee Volunteer Work Abroad
Though many have heard the phrase “refugee relief” before, few know what this type of volunteering abroad truly entails. Refugees can be either externally displaced – meaning, forced out of their country – or internally displaced – displaced, but still living within the borders of their home countries. Organizations, such as the UN or charity groups, work with both types of refugees to rebound from being displaced.
Charity organizations and volunteers who work with refugees abroad help them return to their home country at the end of a conflict or assist in resettling refugees in a new country which offers asylum for individuals from nation’s with ongoing conflict. Due to the large number of conflicts around the world, there is no shortage of need for refugee relief volunteers to help refugees, from resettling to creating fundraising campaigns to teaching languages or other professional abilities.
Refugee relief volunteering abroad can look different depending on the skill set you possess; volunteers with teaching experience, especially teaching English, and those with computer skills or teachable professional skills, are highly in demand. Organizations that run refugee camps allow refugees themselves to cook and complete other necessary household tasks in exchange for wages. Therefore, volunteers on the ground are more likely to complete educational work: teaching refugee families computer competency, English or other languages, professional skills, such as how to interview or compile a resume, and even art classes. These are small tasks, but they can often be the difference between a refugee family surviving or suffering in a new environment.
There are also opportunities to become a refugee relief volunteer involved in the organizational or business side of refugee organizations. These roles include fundraising for charity foundations, seeking sponsors for individual refugee families, and updating international databases with refugee information, for those around the world searching for victims of displacement.
Depending on which role you choose for refugee work abroad, the length of your volunteer experience can vary. Organizational roles may only require small time commitments, from a week to a month or longer, if desired. If you have the skills necessary to teach in refugee camps, the organization you sign up with may want you to volunteer abroad for a longer period of time, from two to six months, so refugees and their families can get to know you.
There are obvious benefits surrounding refugee volunteer work abroad, including practical skills to put on your resume. Volunteering in these camps all over the world can show to potential employers that you are willing to travel for projects you are passionate about, that you have the multicultural skills to interact with refugees from another country as well as teach them relevant skills. As always, volunteering with refugees abroad also illustrates your philanthropic spirit.
The biggest benefits of refugee work abroad, however, are the experiences you can’t define on your resume. Refugees are people with heartbreaking experiences, so it requires a high level of emotional maturity to put yourself in a volunteer situation where refugee families can share their stories with you. Sensitivity is required when dealing with these circumstances, and especially when working with children who have been forced to flee from their homes. Worldwide refugees are comprised of 80 percent women and children.
Volunteering with refugee relief organizations certainly doesn’t come without its challenges, but it is these challenges that will help you move outside of your comfort zone and grow as an adult, a volunteer, and an ally.