Travellers, you can help refugees in crisis

Travellers, you can help refugees in crisis
Refugees and migrants crossing a river on their way to Macedonia from a makeshift camp at the Greek-Macedonian border. Such journeys are very risky. Travellers can give the gift of Safe Passage to refugees, through TripAdvisor’s Charitable Foundation.
PHOTO: AFP

Part of the beauty of travel is coming to the realisation that we are all citizens of the world. Look past the cultural differences and language barriers, and it is evident that people across countries and continents are the same.

TripAdvisor is banking on that sentiment to aid refugees in crisis. And the travel search site - through its TripAdvisor Charitable Foundation - is calling on travellers to join its relief efforts.

TripAdvisor co-founder Steve Kaufer said the initiative is essential as the scale of the global refugee crisis is staggering.

"Millions of refugees are seeking safe haven, often without safety or clarity around where they will end up, and they truly need our collective support," he said in an open letter.

Kaufer was referring to the humanitarian crisis currently impacting the Middle East, Europe and Africa. He echoed the calls for leaders around the world to work towards a political solution to this global predicament.

Read also: Singaporean student forfeits dream trip for time in refugee camps 

"This is a protracted crisis that is not going away overnight. It is reshaping economies and societies for the long-term.

"Governments around the world need to do more to find and implement lasting solutions. However, it's incumbent upon the private sector to leverage our unique expertise, resources and capabilities in partnership with non-profit organisations," he said, adding that the travel site is helping by supporting on-the-ground humanitarian relief efforts.

Young Syrian refugees lining up during a gift distribution in a slum in the town of Dbayeh, north of Beirut. Last year, funds raised through TripAdvisor’s charity project were used to provide essential education and empowerment opportunities for refugee youths.
Photo: TripAdvisor

Working hand-in-hand

On TripAdvisor's part, the company has announced a commitment of at least US$5 million (S$7.12 million) from the TripAdvisor Charitable Foundation over the next three years to alleviate the humanitarian refugee crisis.

For its initial contribution, the Foundation is expanding its partnership with the International Rescue Committee (IRC) and Mercy Corps to provide US$1 million over two years to each organisation.

TripAdvisor will address four key focus areas: Meeting urgent humanitarian needs in Europe and Syria; enabling access to critical information via technological solutions for refugees to make smart and informed decisions along their journey; providing essential education and empowerment opportunities for refugee youth; and supporting and strengthening resettlement opportunities in the United States and other host communities.

TripAdvisor co-founder Steve Kaufer is calling upon the travel community to help millions of refugees who are seeking safe haven.
Photo: TripAdvisor

However, Kaufer stressed that the refugee crisis is an issue that will require all the help and attention it can get.

"We know that no single company or organisation can tackle this crisis single-handedly, and our donation and in-kind support is only a small fraction of what is desperately needed."

To put things in perspective, the United Nations reported that the world is facing one of the worst refugee crises and mass displacement of people since World War II. As of the end of last year, 65.3 million people - or one out of every 113 people on Earth - were impacted and seeking safe haven.

"These men, women and children are facing the most difficult journey of their lives, often without the bare necessities of survival such as food, water, and perhaps most importantly, safety," he offered.

Here's where travellers can pitch in - by making their own donations. At press time, a link on TripAdvisor's site leads to IRC's website.

There are two ways travellers can help. Firstly, you can give the gift of Safe Passage. This helps provide essential aid for families affected by the crisis, and can be dedicated in your name or in honour of a friend or a loved one. Secondly, make a donation to the IRC in any amount you choose.

At the Ritsona refugee camp, north of Athens.There are over 60,000 refugees and migrants trapped in Greece after EU and Balkan countries further north closed their borders last March.
Photo: TripAdvisor

IRC in turn will use the funds collected to expand and strengthen its life-changing programmes in the Middle East, provide critical aid to refugees stranded in Europe, and help families across more than 40 countries and 29 US cities to survive and rebuild their lives.

Last year, travellers and the TripAdvisor Charitable Foundation raised more than US$1.4 million for refugee crisis relief.

Changing lives

IRC president David Miliband said the travel sector is invaluable in addressing the needs of refugees.

He highlighted how travel companies, such TripAdvisor, help in diverting eyeballs to the issue.

"Last summer, as thousands of refugees arrived on the shores of Greece, TripAdvisor was one of the first companies to respond with relief support, also raising the profile of the crisis with their millions of subscribers worldwide," Miliband said.

Last year, the IRC provided 3.3 million Syrians fleeing violence with vital assistance - emergency aid, health care, legal counseling, and help for women and girls who are victims of violence.

The IRC is also involved in humanitarian relief in Myanmar where they provide access to education, clean water and health care opportunities.

Refugees getting cooked meals at Ritsona refugee camp, some 80km north of Athens.
Photo: TripAdvisor

Meanwhile, Mercy Corps chief executive officer Neal Keny-Guyer said this particular initiative will help the agency's work in meeting the needs of millions of people forced to flee their homes.

"In more than five years working in Syria, we've seen heartwrenching, dark and frustrating days. What we've learned is that when organisations like TripAdvisor open their hearts and join us, we can change lives," he said.

The funds from TripAdvisor's initiative last year supported Mercy Corps' efforts to meet the urgent needs of refugees in Greece and the Balkans by providing protection for the most vulnerable, shelter from wintry weather, food and access to crucial information.

Last September, their funds were used to meet urgent humanitarian needs of refugee families and provide essential education and empowerment opportunities for refugee youths.

Kaufer said he's hoping for continued generosity from the global travel community.

"We know that no single group or organisation can tackle this crisis alone but, by working together, we can play a part in helping those in greatest need," he concluded.

Donations can be made at www.tripadvisor.com/vpages/refugee_relief.html.

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