In an article in the Orlando Sentinel titled “Conviction and courage can alleviate refugee crisis” (article can be read at the end of this page), James Coffin, Executive Director of the Interfaith Council of Central Florida, argued that “our world’s many faith traditions and humanistic philosophies” present “a clear moral imperative to aid victims of catastrophe” (i.e. refugees). And he went on to share a brief compendium of quotes that support his thesis.
However, when prior to submitting his article to the Sentinel he shared it with a number of others to critique, some said it focused well on the why but not enough on the how. At a practical level, how can people respond effectively to their moral conviction that they must do something?
Following are observations, ideas and contact information that may be of help for those wanting to know how they might be of service to refugees in general and Ukrainian refugees in particular. Please note that our inclusion here of various faith-based and general relief agencies is not an endorsement or a seal of approval. Nor should the absence of any specific agency be considered a negative comment about it. The list we provide here is simply a service to readers to give them easy access to contact information for some of the many organizations through whom they may be able to contribute time, talent or treasure.
We’re still in the process of gleaning information and ideas, so we expect to see this page expand and adapt over the next few days and weeks as you the readers share ideas and information with us. Send your emails to email@example.com.
Locations where help for refugees is/may be needed
1. In the case of the Ukrainian refugees, they will typically be admitted to a neighboring country, where their identity and their specific needs will be assessed. The host government will play a huge role in what gets done at this stage of the refugee experience. But the government may well call on the assistance of non-government agencies from Europe and abroad who can provide certain functions and services on their behalf. At these points of entry, food, shelter, proper clothing, medical care and a list of other essentials will be provided and needs will be assessed. So there’s likely to be ample opportunity for volunteers at these points of entry. And usually it will be easier for individuals to volunteer with a relief agency than to volunteer with the host government. The relief agency can then interface with the host government.
2. Once the items of immediate concern have been addressed, longer-term accommodation and care must be found for the refugees. Such longer-term facilities may be established in the host country or in another country. Such longer-term care is not a final destination, but will provide a situation in which a more normal life can be experienced, where there will be employment, housing, medical care, counseling, education for the children. It won’t be a permanent situation, but it will be more stable, more settled and with greater independence for the refugees. For those hoping to return to their homeland following the end of the conflict, it can provide a safe and secure place to wait until the return is possible. But it still will require considerable oversight and assistance. And volunteers, especially those with special skills, will probably be in high demand.
3. Depending on what happens in the conflict and the specific situation of the various refugees, repatriation to the homeland may not be a viable or a desirable option. So some refugees will apply for permanent residence somewhere in the world. It could be North America. Individuals in the country that’s welcoming refugees can play a significant role in making sure that the necessary prerequisites are met locally and the newcomers are made to feel welcome and are appropriately enculturated into their new environment.
What individuals might do to help refugees
1. Re-examine the writings that have long been venerated by faith traditions and humanistic philosophies. What do those writings suggest our response should be toward those who are facing extreme adversity—whether the adversity is the result of natural calamity or human misadventures, such as war? What advice/insights/principles do those writings provide concerning how we should deal with current situations that are creating refugees by the millions? Are we in any way “our brother’s keeper,” to borrow a question that has been asked over the centuries years? Or do differences and distance absolve us of all moral obligation to help those in great need?
2. If we determine that we do indeed have a personal moral obligation concerning today’s refugee situations, we can begin by speaking up when the topic arises in discussions among family, friends, neighbors, work associates and any others with whom we may be interacting—especially when others are suggesting that no such responsibility exists. Our comments need not be combative, but they should be heartfelt. Our comments should cause everyone to think about what our fellow humans are actually going through. They should make us think: If we don’t help, where will the help come from? What we want from others if we were the ones in crisis? And can those closest to the situation meet the full challenge created by the millions in need? Or do they need substantial amounts of help from farther afield?
3. We can do research to find what various faith-based or secular relief agencies are doing that we might wish to contribute to financially or for which we might volunteer. We might be able to assist overseas where the refugees are temporarily congregated. Or we might volunteer to do things for some agency right here—things that must be achieved if the agency for which we’re volunteering is to work effectively on the front lines. The following ideas from The Guardian may be of help: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2022/mar/10/ukraine-humanitarian-crisis-what-is-the-most-effective-way-to-help
4. The greatest existing infrastructure is government. Typically, government moves only as fast and as comprehensively as its citizens demand. So if there was ever a time we should be writing letters, sending emails, making phone calls and using any other resources at our disposal to urge government leaders to provide help for those who are destitute because of natural calamity or war, now is such a time. The attitudes and actions of government—governments around the world—will make a huge difference in how fully the needs of refugees can be met.
Contact information for various relief agencies
- Jewish Family and Children’s Services
- United Sikhs
- Khalsa Aid International
- Catholic Relief Services
- Unitarian Universalist Emergency Response Fund
- World Vision
- Adventist Development and Relief Agency
- CNBC’s recommended agencies
- Presbyterian Disaster Assistance
- United Methodist Global Ministries
- United Church of Christ
- Foundation Beyond Belief
- Sewa International
- Red Cross
Conviction and courage can alleviate Ukraine refugee crisis
By JAMES COFFIN
MAR 29, 2022 AT 5:30 AM
Some things in life are complex. Unequivocally. And we do everyone a disservice when we act as if they’re simple. Because they aren’t. Example: dealing with Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine.
What steps could have prevented it — without risking a conflagration? And what steps can halt the horrors currently underway — without likewise igniting an even greater inferno?
Threats, entreaties and scenes of mayhem, suffering and death seem not to faze Mr. Putin. Nor is he squeamish about reminding the world that he might just have to dip into his nuclear arsenal, if pushed.
But some other things are simpler. So let’s not act as if they’re more complex than they actually are. Example: some four million Ukrainians fleeing for their lives — taking only what they can fit into a suitcase.
In many respects, the refugee situation is indeed simple. The refugees are real. Their desperation is palpable. And the only downside to helping them is the cost, the inconvenience and the disruption.
Admittedly, there are daunting logistical challenges. But once we’ve come to grips with our moral obligation, most of the logistical matters can be addressed through competent management.
The old saying that “where there’s a will there’s a way” is more than a cliche; it’s often a reality.
If I read correctly the writings of the thinkers associated with our world’s many faith traditions and humanistic philosophies — whether those thinkers are ancient or modern — there’s a clear moral imperative to aid victims of catastrophe. Some form of the Golden Rule exists in nearly every moral ideology, calling us to recognize a universal obligation to all.
The Buddha reminds us that in our interconnectedness we also bear responsibility.
“All three of the great law codes of the Hebrew Bible in Exodus, Leviticus and Deuteronomy contain the same command regarding the treatment of the stranger,” writes Jewish professor Joel Baden of Yale Divinity School. He quotes Leviticus 19:34: “The stranger (think: refugee) who resides with you shall be to you as one of your citizens; you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.”
A report prepared for the United Nations briefly summarizes Islamic teaching about refugees, saying: “Muslims must seek refuge from injustice and abuse, and in turn they are obliged to accept and protect those fleeing.”
In Matthew 25, Jesus says the true test of whether or not we’re on God’s side is how we respond to the victims of extremity — and it’s hard to imagine anything more dire than refugees running for their lives from the ravages of war.
Baha’ullah, founder of the Baha’i faith, highlights our need to recognize the oneness of all humanity, suggesting that the moral person is “a man who today dedicateth himself to the service of the entire human race.”
The Humanist Manifesto III similarly states: “We are committed to treating each person as having inherent worth and dignity.” That would include refugees — of whatever race, nationality or ethnic origin.
Sikh writer Simran Jeet Singh says Sikhism’s commitment to seva (selfless service) is based on the concept of the “oneness of the world, the connectedness of reality, the intermingling of creator and creation.” In short, there are no exclusions when it comes to helping fellow humans in crisis.
A similar concept of selfless service pervades Hinduism, and for similar reasons. One commentary states: “The concept of charity in Hinduism is about helping others without expecting something in return … because it is the right thing to do.”
Unitarian Universalists claim a legacy of “deeds not creeds.” They state: “Our work for a better world calls us to … harness love’s power to stop oppression.”
Reinhold Niebuhr’s Serenity Prayer says: “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”
The refugee crisis can be dealt with — provided we have the moral conviction and are able to summon the courage to do so.
Pastor James Coffin is executive director of the Interfaith Council of Central Florida.