You don't have to Volunteer at a Refugee Camp to Make a Difference

As a researcher on the Refugee/Border Control programme at the Institute for Islamic Strategic Affairs (IISA), a London-based think tank addressing socio-political and strategic affairs affecting the Islamic world, I could never have foreseen I would be able to do anything for refugees. After all, what difference could a part-time intern at a research institute possibly make to a global refugee crisis?

Now in my eighth month with IISA, I have a simple message to share: no matter who you are, or what your skill set, there is always a way you can help prevent refugees’ suffering.

Realising that the Human Suffering of Refugees outweighs the Politics

alt In November 2015, I was just beginning my second year of study at law school. Ravenous with the ambition typical of students early in the academic year, I applied for an internship with the new refugee research programme at IISA. My first analysis piece was on how Europe had looked to "solve" the refugee crisis by paying the African Union to contain refugees in Africa. The Paris attacks changed the entire landscape of the refugee crisis overnight, dwarfing my political analysis. I started seeing less political commentary, and quickly saw the true human element behind the refugee crisis:

  • Reactionary tightening of borders left Iranians sewing their lips together in Idomeni, trying desperately to show the world how they had been neglected.

  • Clashes at borders became commonplace, with refugees fighting and dying as a result of divisive and discriminatory border policy.

  • Pregnant women and children were tear gassed and shot by rubber bullets indiscriminately in the name of "crowd dispersion" at borders.

For weeks, all I saw were pictures of these people in pain and suffering.

I knew that while I could not volunteer to help refugees on the ground, I had to do something to help; there had to be something I could do to help.

Finding a Way to Help

As we realised the extent of refugee suffering, the Refugee programme shifted its focus to put the humanitarian needs of refugees at the forefront of any research and projects. We began to use our research to develop and discuss policy that would place refugee safety first. We began releasing monthly Refugee Report papers, where we brought together statistics, analysis and humanitarian insights to portray a holistic interpretation of the refugee crisis; and gave our best efforts to propose policy recommendations to address the main issues.

Though the fate of refugees is ultimately in the hands of our policy-makers, we will continue our drive to bring true pro-refugee policy to policy-maker attention, and for pro-refugee policy to become a reality.


The unfortunate truth is that our policy-makers have let down not only the refugees who fled to us seeking safety, but they have failed to express the real value for human life and human safety held by us as citizens.

In their failure to properly protect refugees, policy-makers have left much of refugee care and management to the hands of NGOs and volunteer organisations. If refugee care and safety is to be left at the hands of NGOs and volunteers, then it is our duty to overcome deficiencies in volunteer capacities, and protect refugees the way we wanted our policy-makers to protect them.

Our next step was to reach out to volunteers in order to learn more about their experiences and opinions of the refugee crisis. Through discussions with our friends in Calais - People to People Solidarity, a group of individuals mainly based in the UK working together in order to tackle the humanitarian crisis in Calais, and Are You Syrious?, a Croatian volunteer organisation dedicated to helping refugees and assisting in humanitarian work, we recognised there was a definite need for volunteers to be assisted in their efforts, particularly in their management of distributing supplies, and protection of unaccompanied refugee children.

“What shocked me the most was the fact there were no large organisations present or government officials helping. The only governmental officials present were the police, who were deliberately intimidating to volunteers. The only reason these refugees are surviving and getting one hot meal a day is because of volunteers and donations.

One of the biggest problems, in my opinion, is the lack of support for vulnerable refugees within the camp. There are unaccompanied children, lone women and newborn babies who need vital support to keep them safe. Smuggler gangs are preying on the vulnerable whilst the police watch on from the corners of the camp swinging their batons. In January 2016, the EU’s criminal intelligence agency announced that at least 10,000 unaccompanied child refugees have disappeared after arriving in Europe.

There are lone children, who have fled war and persecution, relying on volunteers to keep them safe from the horrors of violence, prostitution and death.”

Emma Lang
Calais – People to People Solidarity
Bournemouth & Poole
April 2016
IISA Refugee Report, Vol I, Issue I; “The Refugee Crisis: Europe’s Greek Prison for Refugees”


Making a Difference


Our team developed a concept of registering refugees on a private database, which volunteers could use to both ensure unaccompanied refugee children can be protected, and for volunteers to better distribute supplies. We searched for similar projects for us to collaborate with, and used the Prosper Community Refugee Projects database to find the Ref Aid app, and got in touch with the app's developers, Trellyz.

We are now in the process of developing this app concept, and despite our team being part-time interns with IISA, based separately in the UK, Spain and Canada, our work has led us to have a real opportunity to help prevent refugee suffering in Europe; having followed only our desire to do something, anything, we could to help refugee care efforts.

We all must remember that refugees are people just like us, with fears, families, hopes and dreams. We can all make a difference to solve this refuge crisis, and if you feel refugees deserve safety and protection, don’t doubt the difference you could make in helping protect refugees.

The team on the IISA Refugee Programme are currently setting up a crowdfunding page for the development of the app on, and hope to release another article outlining its features in the near future. If you would like to know more about the app, collaborate in its development, or volunteer to join the IISA team, please email Daniyal at:

Photo Credits: Tinka Kalajzic

Daniyal Shajar

Daniyal is the programme leader of the Refugee/Border Control programme at the Institute for Islamic Strategic Affairs (IISA). Along with his team at IISA, Daniyal works to develop pro-refugee policy.

Brighton, United Kingdom

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