You might be asking yourself – in the face of all the news of environmental displacement, refugee camp conditions, and ongoing violent conflict, how can I help? While Filippo Grandi currently serves as the UNHCR High Commissioner, one day that position will be open again.  Remember, all advocates need to start somewhere! The humanitarian field builds off of numerous academic disciplines, requiring diverse forms of expertise, skills, and interests. The non-profit sector, intergovernmental and international organizations, and various government agencies are all engaged in responding to the needs of asylum-seekers and refugees, meaning that there are ways in which you can help at any point in your career trajectory. Moreover, this means that opportunities range from local support of refugees to international dialogues and addressing causes of displacement. In other words, supporting the displaced can be done from the onset of displacement and providing emergency assistance, or by helping refugees adjust to their host society. 

To begin, numerous educational institutions are beginning to offer Bachelor’s and Master’s programs in the field of migration studies or refugee studies.1 These two fields typically offer an interdisciplinary look at human mobility and displacement. From this, graduates would be able to conduct invaluable research and in turn inform governance actors in developing policy. Importantly, these programs are present all over the world!2 Another field of expertise that is needed to assist refugees draws on legal expertise – legal studies, law, and international law all offer educational pathways which can ensure that current legal protections are accessible to asylum seekers, with the possibility to also develop future legal frameworks. In tandem with providing legal support, those talented with languages can assist refugees by becoming translators, or language instructors.3 Language and the ability to communicate are invaluable for accessing resources, as well as navigating new situations. 

If you’re interested in addressing violent causes of displacement, studying peace and conflict, conflict resolution or international relations is the way to go. Societies that have undergone violent conflict likely turn into a different context from which refugees were forced to flee, and rebuilding is a complicated process.4 Due to the violent and complex subject matter, these fields take great resilience and compassion to get into. However, when in the field, it’s important to remember – the people living in a given society, be they asylum-seeker or someone who remained, are likely to understand the situation better than you!  

Another notable field of study can be found in healthcare. Joining the ranks of Médecins Sans Frontières requires a considerable amount of education and passion for health (but also requires communication specialists, for those less scientifically inclined).5 Healthcare is an indispensable field of support for the displaced, with many asylum-seekers and refugees not having access to the healthcare they desperately need.6 People encountering displacement might require medical support at any point in time, and in any form. This means that the educational trajectory for nurses, doctors, psychologists, and art therapists can all be used in support of the displaced.7 Unfortunately, ongoing violent conflict and displacement leave many people traumatized and requiring medical assistance. 

Once you’ve chosen a field that matches your academic interests, skills, and most importantly your desire to help, there are some things you still need to keep in mind. Working with displaced populations requires sensitivity, thoughtfulness, and resiliency. As someone engaged in the field, Hasanagić advises to newcomers to choose their words carefully and with compassion, to acknowledge their limitations as a human, to consider the complexities and ethics of humanitarianism, and to treat everyone you encounter “equally and with the same respect”.8 This advice is not exhaustive, and there are many more considerations that need to be taken into account. With that being said, everyone can offer their support for the displaced – by volunteering, raising awareness, demanding political change, and many more. Now, when you go to ask yourself “But how can I help? What can I do about it?”, the question should instead be “When can I help? Where is my help most needed?”. 

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