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Singa and Refugees in France

2015 was a year of Syrian refugees. There was so much news about whether to let people in, or to keep them out, but little word came about from the organizations that actually supported them.

The Guardian had a stunning piece of Syria in before and after pictures – which drove home the point of how much it looked like any modern city just a couple years ago, compared to the complete wasteland it looks like now.  This makes it so clear why people are migrating across Europe in such large numbers. I can only imagine, if my city had transformed into a beat-up war zone, I’d probably be setting out on foot too.

When the news was being pummeled by reactions to these refugees, I felt really frustrated that these people seemed to be getting such a cold shoulder from countries denying them entry or not helping these people to shore. Countries that created policies or regulations to refuse people, or to strip them of any possessions in fear that they would only drain the local economy. The limits that defined “We’re only going to take this many people” just feels wrong. Ultimately, a wounded Syria is spilling out and this is effecting everyone. And the default reaction to turn your back and say, “It’s not my problem”, or “This is all I can do” — is such an indisposed attitude that doesn’t serve anyone.

John Oliver had a great piece on Migrants and Refugees.  His pointed humor is entertaining, but this piece actually led me to donate to the UNHCR (The UN Refugee Agency) – a great organization for supporting refugees. I guess it made me feel like I was doing something where I felt countries’ support was lacking.

But what happens after refugees reach a country to settle in?  Well, Vocative had a nice description on what happens when refugees get where they’re going, finding that:

  • Refugees continue to experience poverty
  • Their health may deteriorate
  • They suffer higher levels of infant mortality
  • They can face violence
  • Most refugees can’t find work

It seems to me, the hardest part is integrating these refugees into the new countries where they land.  I discovered a group called SINGA, which works in France to support refugees by integrating them into the society’s they migrate.

SINGA acts as a liaison, connecting refugees with the resources they need, especially when they try to make it through the complex bureaucracy in a language they don’t understand. They pair people up with mentors, to encourage and support refugees in starting projects that utilize their strengths and interests – so that refugees can better understand the local culture and have the support to lift them beyond the stereotype of being a refugee.

SINGA built a platform, “Comme à la Maison”, which is a bit like couch-surfing for refugees, or an ‘airbnb’ for migrants, but again, the focus is not on charity but on fostering connections. By building understanding across cultures, this breaks down barriers and helps people learn from each other, ultimately improving everyone’s life.

As a global society, we don’t progress by merely providing charitable services to those in need – it needs to be a 2-way growth, so that collectively our life experience is better. The more we understand and connect with each other, the more we can share our experiences and develop new, exciting ways to live together.

After everything that refugees have gone through to reach a destination, I can’t think of a better method than SINGA’s approach in assisting people to establish themselves in an unfamiliar place in a way which improves the quality of life for all.


Also published on Medium.

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