Images of refugees streaming into Europe from conflict-torn countries in recent weeks have deeply moved people around the world, many of them wondering, “How can I help?”
In partnership with the U.N. refugee agency, the White House is answering that question: USA for UNHCR.
U.S. high-tech companies are working with the White House to provide ways citizens can contribute money and food for refugees, or provide housing for aid workers — and they can do it from their computers at home.
Using the hashtag #AidRefugees, the White House calls the campaign “hashtag diplomacy.”
On Tuesday, Kickstarter, a website that serves as a funding platform for creative projects and businesses, launched a campaign page that allows people to make donations for a range of materials and services: $15 to provide someone with a sleeping bag, $30 to give 50 people fresh water to drink, $600 to provide a year of education for a child.
Kickstarter has waived its fees for the project and has not set a funding goal. By Tuesday evening after a morning launch, 7,000 people had donated almost $400,000.
“This isn’t just what I can do as president. Every single one of us — from citizens to NGOs — can help refugees find safe haven,” President Barack Obama said on the White House website.
In addition to Kickstarter, the Instacart online home shopping service is allowing families to make food donations to refugee families when they do their own grocery shopping.
And Airbnb, a website that enables travelers to find accommodations in homes around the world, is providing such housing to relief workers. Airbnb said that according to its NGO partners, providing homelike environments for aid workers was a “helpful and immediate” contribution.
Airbnb said that its platform was not designed in a way that would help refugees find housing.
The White House said the Statue of Liberty stands on a platform of small contributions because the base for the statue was paid for by hundreds of thousands of Americans who in 1885 donated small sums of money. Together they raised $2.5 million so the statue could stand.
Twelve million people — roughly the size of the two largest U.S. cities, New York and Los Angeles — have been displaced by the fighting in Syria and are in need of food, shelter and housing.
“This is a complex and evolving crisis, and there are no overnight solutions,” UNHCR said. “But even a small contribution can give a family a place to sleep, or a child a set of dry clothes — and to them, that helps a lot.”