The 11 Best Countries to Volunteer Abroad with Refugees

 
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When it comes to traveling abroad, it’s always important to give back. And, given today’s geopolitical climate, refugee activism is more important than ever. Whether you’re providing clothing, education, shelter, or sustenance, every effort counts. The experience has a lasting impact—not only for the local communities but for the volunteers, as well. Volunteering with Palestinian refugees in Jordan profoundly altered my perspective on the world, opening my eyes to the humanity and perseverance of displaced people in the face of difficulty and injustice. Everyone deserves a home, a place for their families to be safe. To that end, we’ve rounded up the top countries to volunteer abroad with refugees. From Europe to Asia, to South America, to Africa, read on for the places and organizations where your support matters most.  

1. Poland

Refugees at a train station

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Given the devastation of the war in Ukraine, Poland has gained international importance as a haven for refugees — and there’s no more timely place to allocate your energy and resources. There’s no shortage of opportunities to volunteer, depending on your ability and interest. United Help Ukraine is dedicated to distributing food and medical supplies to refugees, while Nova Ukraine provides emergency kits and hospital equipment, and the Ukraine Crisis Fund provides water, food, and hygiene kits to Ukrainian families. Finally, Insight Ukraine is a public organization collecting funds to cover relocation needs for LGBTQIA+ refugees.

2. Jordan

A makeshift camp in Jordan

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Jordan has historically been home to some of the highest populations of refugees in the world, with over 760,000 displaced people seeking asylum. As a result, refugee camps are flooded with inhabitants and short on resources, resulting in limited opportunities for refugees. NGOabroad offers volunteers the chance to assist Iraqi and Syrian refugees by supporting local crafts production, therefore helping to provide sustainable means of livelihood.

3. Greece

A refugee camp in Greece

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Nearly one million refugees have traveled through Greece in the past five years, fleeing Syria, Iraq, and other war-torn countries. Greece is home to more than 62,000 refugees, and there is no shortage of organizations to lend your support. Volunteer on the island of Lesbos with HIAS Greece to assist at-risk refugee populations or support the Moria Refugee Camp with The Boat Refugee Foundation. Moria is the largest camp on Lesbos: all migrants arriving by boat are transferred there for registration and asylum application. On the mainland, the CCS Refugee Program provides internships at refugee camps located 50 miles north of Athens, while Help Refugees offers short-term volunteer work at Thessaloniki, the country’s second-largest city of Thessaloniki. Volunteers assist in the warehouse, help in the kitchen, and distribute donations to those in need.

4. France

A refugee camp in a forest in France

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The demolition of the Calais “Jungle” has become symbolic of Europe’s neglect and abuse of refugees. Yet, despite the camp’s eviction in October 2016, and the fire that destroyed the Grand Synthe in April 2017, nearly 1,500 refugees continue to sleep in these forests in northern France. Help Refugees, the largest aid operation in northern France offers women’s and children’s services for these refugees—providing food, water, clothes, and blankets. Following the eviction of the Calais camp, thousands of refugees found themselves homeless on the streets of Pairs. Become a UN Volunteer for international youth to assist these populations.

5. Serbia

A refugee camp in Serbia

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The overcrowding of thousands of refugees around a railway station in the Serbian capital has Belgrade being hailed as ‘the new Calais.’ Serbia shares a border with Hungary, Romania, and Bulgaria and has become a key transit point on the Balkan Route—a path for asylum-seekers to reach Europe. With the tightening of border controls, nearly 8,000 refugees are stranded in the country—and are now facing extremely frigid weather. Volunteer with Help Refugees to provide these people with medical care, blankets, and food.

6. Bangladesh

A woman sits with a young girl in a camp

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The fastest-growing humanitarian crisis is unfolding in Myanmar, with 1.7 million people fleeing a military regime the United Nations deemed a "textbook example of ethnic cleansing". The government is denying citizenship to Rohingya Muslims, an ethnic minority in the predominantly Buddhist country. Over half a million residents of the northern province of Rakhine have fled their homes since August 2017, many seeking refuge from human rights violations. Medical Teams International offers opportunities for medically trained volunteers in Bangladesh, while organizations such as UWC foster volunteer opportunities at refugee camps along the border.

7. Palestine

A village in Palestine built into the side of a hill

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Volunteer opportunities abound in the West Bank: you can assist community development via Love Volunteers or support the Deheishe Refugee Camp with Karama in Bethlehem. Another worthy cause is Volunteer Palestine: the organization’s founders are refugees from the Aida Refugee Camp in Bethlehem. The project was established to provide relief to the local community, which is struggling with limited resources.

8. Kenya

A group of migrants walking along a dusty road

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Volunteer with HIAS Kenya at one of their four offices in Nairobi to assist the influx of the country’s refugees, many of whom have suffered torture or sexual violence. The majority of refugees in Kenya are from Somalia, with additional migrants fleeing Ethiopia, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and South Sudan. Not all of these refugees are originally from elsewhere, however. After the 2007 election in Kenya, over 600,000 people fled their homes to escape the ensuing riots. Once the violence subsided, many Kenyans were too afraid to return to their homes and ended up pitching tents, becoming known as Settled Internally Displaced People (SIDP). The organization  Love Volunteers offers aid to the SIDP village located two hours outside Nairobi.

9. Colombia

Crowded slums in Colombia

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More than 600,000 refugees have fled Venezuela for Colombia, and thousands more are arriving every day. Over 1.1 million people have been displaced, the largest in Latin American history. The reason? The Hugo Chavez regime has left more than 90% of its citizens without enough food to survive. Refugee camps, once rare in South America, are now cropping up along the Venezuelan borders. Volunteer HQ offers volunteer opportunities in Cartagena and Bogotá.

10. Italy

A dirty campsite in Italy

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Italy is home to nearly 200,00 refugees, with hundreds of people arriving in the country from North Africa on a daily basis in hopes for a better life—though, for the majority of these people, these hopes will remain unfulfilled. Over 50% of displaced people in Italy weren’t offered protection by the government. Volunteer with Help Refugees to assist these migrant populations via family reunification and aid for trafficked women. Volunteer HQ runs a project in Southern Italy providing NGO support to refugees in Naples. Projects Abroad offer refugee aid in Reggio, Calabria, and Camini, helping migrants (especially children) adapt to life in Italy. The timing is flexible, with the minimum commitment being only two weeks—ideal if you’re short on vacation time but still want to make an impact.

11. Belgium

A town square in Belgium with an assortment of flags

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Belgium is another European country with volunteer initiatives worthy of your support. Volunteer HQ has a Mobile Library initiative that provides education and reading to the refugee community living on the streets in the Belgian capital of Brussels. The library moves to different locations around the city every day, giving the opportunity for refugees and homeless people to enjoy a cup of coffee, socialize, and read. As a volunteer, you will also serve breakfast to refugees standing in line outside the immigration office in the morning, trying to seek asylum. Socializing is a key component to both of these initiatives—as a volunteer, you will mingle with the people you assist daily and provide them with food, entertainment, and everyday amenities. Many of these displaced people are without their friends and family, so these small acts of human kindness can make a huge difference.

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