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Helping Refugees at Extreme Risk

In August 2015, television screens and front pages around the world erupted with images of people in terrible crisis. Vast numbers of refugees, fleeing violence and persecution in their home countries, began pouring into Europe in search of safe harbor and basic protections of their human rights. Tired of feeling helpless and horrified in the face of these tragedies, a group of three friends in the United Kingdom decided to take matters into their own hands, and the non-profit Help Refugees—originally known as Help Calais—began.

30,000 volunteers helped more than one million people in less than three years.

The group’s initial vision was a modest one: raise £1,000, get donations from an Amazon Wish List of the goods in greatest demand, and send them to the informal refugee camp in Calais, France. Within a week, £56,000 had streamed in, and the group’s small storage locker in North London was deluged with 7,000 packages. Soon, organizers partnered with a local French charity and opened a warehouse to accept and house donations. From there, they created distribution networks within the camps, started hot food kitchens, built a women’s and children’s center, and started constructing better shelters to protect families from the cold.

Just three years since its launch, Help Refugees has attracted more than 30,000 volunteers and reached more than a million people across Europe and around the globe, providing everything from winter coats and safe housing for a year, to legal support and help finding employment. Crowdfunding efforts continue to be highly successful, aided by funds from private and philanthropic partners alike. To date, Help Refugees has raised nearly $18 million to address the humanitarian crisis brought about by mass displacement of refugees. Today, the group is focused not just on helping people in need, but on encouraging everyone to recognize and embrace our common humanity.