How You Can Help Refugees Around the World Using Kickstarter

Photo: Ivan Romano/Pacific Press/LightRocket/Getty Images.
A young woman on the path leading to the Serbian-Croatian border, at the refugee camp of Bapska, Croatia.
Update: With just under 10 hours to go, the Kickstarter campaign to help refugees around the world has raised more than $1.7 million from more than 26,000 people.

This story was originally published at October 7, at 2:55 p.m.

As the number of refugees around the world hits an all-time high, the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the White House have partnered with crowdfunding website Kickstarter to help raise desperately needed funds.

The Kickstarter campaign began on Tuesday, and has raised over $1 million from more than 15,000 donors so far. It runs until October 13. Unlike other crowdfunding campaigns, 98% of funds will be immediately delivered to the UNHCR, according to Kickstarter. Donations are tax-deductible, and are subject to a 2% credit-card processing fee.

Globally, one in 122 people is now either a refugee, internally displaced from his or her home, or seeking asylum in another country, according to the UNHCR. If refugees and displaced people were their own country, it would the 24th largest in the world.

And a little bit goes a long way in helping refugees, according to the UNHCR — $15 can provide a sleeping mat for one person; $30 can provide clean water for 50 people; $600 can provide an entire year of education and care for a child. The majority of Syrian refugee children are not in school, surveys by the UNHCR found.

...we can join together to provide shelter, food, and medical assistance to these people in need. It’s the American thing to do.

Joshua Miller, White House Director of Product
In a blog post, White House Director of Product Joshua Miller compared the Kickstarter campaign to 19th-century American crowdfunding efforts that helped erect the Statue of Liberty.

"In the summer of 1885, hundreds of thousands of Americans — from street cleaners and politicians, to young children and businessmen — united to donate small sums of money to a common cause. Collectively, they raised $2.5 million (in today's dollars) to build a base for the Statue of Liberty, which had arrived in New York in pieces," Miller wrote.

"Just like we banded together in 1885, we can join together to provide shelter, food, and medical assistance to these people in need. It’s the American thing to do," Miller said.

Unlike migrants, who mostly emigrate for economic reasons, refugees are fleeing emergency situations in their home countries and cannot go back. They are some of the world's most desperate people, and more than half of them are children, according to the UNHCR. Many refugees have only days or hours to flee their homes, and are forced to bring only one small bag with them on what can be a perilous journey.

Some 12 million people have been displaced by the ongoing civil war in Syria, according to the UNHCR. That number is roughly the same as the populations of Los Angeles and New York City combined, Miller wrote. In addition to crowdfunding efforts, the U.S. said it plans to accept 10,000 Syrian refugees over the next year.

While refugees arriving in Hungary and other parts of Europe from Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan have made headlines, there are refugees facing desperate circumstances around the world. The world's third-largest refugee camp is located in the African nation of Tanzania. The camp is the temporary home of more than 93,000 refugees, many of them women, who have fled violence and civil unrest in Burundi.

Globally, one in 122 people is now either a refugee, internally displaced from his or her home, or seeking asylum in another country.

Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees
Crowdfunding efforts to help refugees go beyond the Kickstarter campaign. Grocery delivery company Instacart is letting customers add food for refugee families to their online shopping carts.

"It was an honor to be approached by the White House, and we are glad to be partnering with them on this initiative. Instacart users will now have the option to donate food rations to Syrian refugees through the U.N. Refugee Agency, and we hope that even more companies will join in this effort," Apoorva Mehta, CEO of Instacart, wrote in a statement.

Airbnb has also offered lodging credits to aid workers with the International Rescue Committee and Mercy Corps in Greece, Serbia, and Macedonia, the company wrote in a press release.

But Americans can do more to help than just donate funds, Jennifer Patterson, a director of communications for UNHCR, told Refinery29. Patterson encouraged people to share refugees' stories with their friends, family, and on social media to raise awareness, and to ask the companies they buy from to donate supplies such as diapers and food.

Above all, Patterson urged people to keep refugees on their minds even when stories are not in the headlines.

"Right now, [the refugee crisis] is in everyone's news feeds, but it's not going to be when the next emergency happens," Patterson said. "These women and children are going to need support for a long time. It's just not a week-or-two crisis."


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