Serving Refugees on the Move

With more than 70 million people displaced around the world, it can be hard to see each person as an individual – a mother, a baby or a grandparent.  

And because those same dehumanizing numbers are used to create fear and division within the U.S., Europe and elsewhere, national governments often willfully neglect the needs of people when they are most vulnerable…fleeing to safety. Some governments try to make seeking refuge hard and dangerous as a means of discouraging migrants – and making matters worse, large humanitarian organizations often will not work in dangerous or unstable settings, or without the authorization of a host government. 

The reality of how governments and large NGOs work with refugees creates a terrible gap in refugee services – the capacity to help refugees at their most vulnerable, when they are on the move.    

In the absence of serious government or large NGO action, local grassroots organizations are stepping in to fill the void. From former military to faith groups to self-organizing volunteers, people are providing basic humanitarian needs such as food, shelter and sanitation for people whose intent was to move through a community but who get stuck there due to politics. The help comes in situations such as in Greece and Turkey with people trying to enter other EU nations, or the U.S.-Mexico border, or Syrians trapped in a corner of their country fleeing their own government and border doors shut to them. 

These local organizations lack the infrastructure to raise money from foundations and governments – or from caring citizens around the world. They are people responding with humanity to people literally at their doorstep. This is where focused and savvy organizations like Choose Love and FWD.us enter, mobilizing resources for the frontline organizations that care for and provide services to the most vulnerable people in the world. 

Choose Love launched as a volunteer effort in 2015 to help thousands of refugees in the notorious Calais camps of Northern France. The group’s initial vision was a modest one: raise £1,000, receive donations from an Amazon Wish List of the goods in greatest demand, and send them to the informal refugee camp in Calais. Within a week, tens of thousands of dollars had streamed in, along with 7,000 packages.  

Choose Love soon learned that those in and around the camps, if given the resources, knew how best to help. Their operating model was born – sophisticated grassroots fundraising on one hand and on the other, efficient re-granting to small but vetted local organizations that demonstrated they knew best where needs lie and who could meet those needs.

Five years later, Choose Love has raised more than $45 million for a network of more than 200 grassroots organizations, providing more than one million displaced people everything from winter coats, food and safe housing, to legal services and help finding employment. With its crucial gap filling role in mind, Choose Love focuses on the coordination and support for a network of carefully identified and vetted organizations, all of which are highly effective but chronically underfunded. 

Since 2018, Mountain supported Choose Love’s ability to scale its fundraising and re-granting capacity across 15 countries – including camps and settlements in Greece, Turkey, Lebanon and France; critical first responders in conflict zones such as Syria; and frontline organizations along the U.S.-Mexico border. 

Choose Love reminds us all that while no one chooses to be a refugee, we can choose how we respond.

In the U.S., the previous administration’s policies led to the separation of families, closing of the southern border, questionable deportations and widespread fear and intimidation. Tens of thousands of people remain “stuck at the fence” in unsanitary and unsafe conditions created by U.S. government policy. 

FWD.us is a quiet yet highly credible force in state and federal immigration policy. During the many crises of the previous administration, FWD.us also recognized that a critical but under-developed expertise it possessed was deep and real-time knowledge of where needs lie and which local organizations could deliver for people on the move across the entire border region.  

With Mountain’s support, FWD.us created the Border Crisis Response Fund, leveraging its ability to mobilize resources from larger donors and then moving 100% of these funds to direct service organizations working along the border to provide basic health, education and legal services.

FWD.us and its partners have tackled the painstaking work  of helping new arrivals find – and reach – relatives spread across the U.S., access legal services that can help them manage asylum claims with care, compassion and respect, and connect to resources to survive while their asylum claims are considered.

With a new administration in place, FWD.us is working at the intersection of direct service organizations, local and state governments and federal policy makers to not only undo the damaging policies of the past, but to build a humane, functioning immigration and asylum system in the U.S. that treats those coming to America seeking refuge with dignity and respect. 

As the numbers of displaced people around the world is projected to grow – and our international and national government systems remain unable to meet the need – Mountain will continue to seek investments that fill any critical gap for those forced to flee due to violence, persecution or other crises.