Refugees don't choose to flee their homes. They're forced to leave because their lives are threatened by war, violence, conflict or persecution.
Some 79.5 million people were forcibly displaced worldwide at the end of 2019, according to data provided by UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, in its latest Global Trends report.
Despite widespread negative media coverage in recent years, refugees are not looking for charity, and integration into their host country's society is vital to helping ensure refugees can reach their full potential and become active members of the community.
Let's not forget refugees were doctors, lawyers, farmers, and artists in their home countries. In fact, Freddy Mercury, Albert Einstein, and Sigmund Freud were refugees.
Here are six inspiring grassroots organizations in France that are working to empower refugees and counteract an often negative media narrative.
1. Réfugiés Bienvenue
Since 2015, the NGO Réfugiés Bienvenue has found a shelter to over 150 refugees and asylum seekers with 200 hosts across France.
Since 2015, Réfugiés Bienvenue has helped find accommodation for over 150 refugees and asylum seekers with 200 hosts across France.
The local NGO offers a 3- to 12-month program during which they provide tailored support to refugees and asylum seekers. They help with administrative procedures, such as accessing health services, long-term renting, and job opportunities.
"When citizens get engaged this way, they get an in-depth understanding of the barriers to include people in exile," Anjali Claes, hosting manager at Réfugiés Bienvenue, told Global Citizen.
One couple, Charlotte and Jean, have hosted Mazaheb, a refugee from Sudan, for the past four months. Every day, she reads newspapers to help her improve her French, and conversation with the couple helps too.
"Hosting [refugees and asylum seekers] makes us feel we're doing our part so that people in exile can better integrate and have the necessary resources to bounce back and build something," said the couple from Clamart, a southwestern suburb of Paris.
How can you help?
If you live in France and have a spare room, Réfugiés Bienvenue can put you in touch with an asylum seeker or a refugee who needs a place to stay. You just need to fill out this form.
If you have a garden, Réfugiés Bienvenue, in partnership with the NGO Quatorze, can even build a tiny house in your backyard.
2. Action Emploi Réfugiés
"The past will always be a scar, but at least the future will heal it," said Nupia Baloula, a Congolese refugee from Brazzaville, who struggled to find her place in her new home in France.
Over the past four years, Action Emploi Réfugiés (AERé) has facilitated over 500 jobs for refugees and created a network of more than 300 employers across France. Since mid-2019, it has had an average of 60% match-rate for refugees into safe and stable jobs.
Nupia Baloula, a Congolese refugee from Brazzaville, struggled to find her place in her new home in France. Her housing situation was precarious and her children needed to go to school.
Luckily, she was one of 15 people trained by AERé, which puts refugees in touch with companies in France looking to hire. She participated in a four-month intensive course to become a hospital sanitary worker, before getting recruited at one of Paris' biggest hospitals.
"The past will always be a scar, but at least the future will heal it," she told Kavita Brahmbhatt, the NGO's co-founder.
Brahmbhatt told Global Citizen: "Our belief is that refugees contribute hugely to the French labor market, that diversity opens new doors, and that successful labor market integration has benefits for both the economy and the society of France."
"This is, ultimately, what makes a real difference – not providing help – but empowering refugees to help themselves," Brahmbhatt added.
How can you help?
You can reach out to the organization if you are a business owner keen to open your doors to refugees, if you know any recruiter, or if you want to incentivize your company to hire refugees — and that goes for companies outside of France too.
If you live in France and you have a background in Human Resources, get in touch with AERé. The organization relies on a team of 30 volunteers who dedicate their time to running training courses to help refugees prepare and apply for jobs.
With the help of SINGA, a citizen-led movement that creates opportunities for refugees and their host communities to cooperate, people like Sofia and Evans were able to develop their project.
SINGA, a citizen-led movement that creates opportunities for refugees, has unleashed the potential of nearly 1,000 entrepreneurs who have developed 300 entrepreneurial projects since 2016.
SINGA has four incubators (programs that nurture recently created companies or startups) in France and eight across Europe. They help grow startups developed by asylum seekers and refugees to address their specific needs, such as learning the local language, understanding cultural codes, and building social and professional networks.
Bonney, a former nurse and refugee from Rwanda, first arrived in France in 2016. With the help of SINGA, she was able to launch her business.
She started ALASIR, an NGO that supports people living with kidney failure, in Lyon. She has also received a grant from the French investment bank BPI to develop protective devices for people undergoing dialysis.
Projects supported by SINGA have "generated hundreds of thousands of euros in revenue and created hundreds of jobs in France, Germany, Italy, and Switzerland," explained Birgit Vynckier, who coordinates the entrepreneurship program at SINGA in Lyon.
"SINGA's entrepreneurship program aims to enable everyone, regardless of their background and origin, to become an actor of change and contribute to building a more inclusive society, without discrimination," Vynckier told Global Citizen.
How can you help?
In France and across the eight European countries where they work,SINGA can put you in touch with entrepreneurs to help develop their project. If you are based outside of Europe, you can also contribute by mentoring entrepreneurs and offer them online training on a specific set of skills.
4. La Fabrique Nomade
Since 2017, La Fabrique Nomade, an NGO that helps refugee artisans find a job in France and pass on their traditional crafts, has supported 35 craftspeople from 20 countries.
More than 75% of the artisans supporting by the organization have found a job and 60% of them now work in the arts and crafts industry, according to Ghaïta Tauche-Luthi, head of communications.
When Yasir Elamine, a potter from Sudan, arrived in France as a refugee, he thought his life as an artist was over. But with the help of La Fabrique Nomade, he collaborated with a French artist and displayed their work at Paris' D’Days design fair.
"I hope I've shown [Yasir] that what he does is very valuable," said Laureline de Leeuw, the artist with whom Yasir collaborated.
"I would love for him to draw the conclusion that it's important to trust his skills, so that he carries on as an artisan and sees integration into French [society] as a reality, and not a dream,” she said.
How can you help?
If you're an artist or you have a craft business, you can get involved by helping train refugee artisans or offering an internship. You can also donate materials and tools. You can also buy traditional crafts made by refugee artisans.
"It's a real achievement for them to see that the public appreciate the project they developed," Tauche-Luthi told Global Citizen.
5. Emmaüs Roya
"While some sow hatred, others grow the land," said Cédric Herrou, a French farmer and migrant rights defender, who founded the NGO Emmaüs Roya.
When France closed its border with Italy in 2015, it turned away thousands of refugees and asylum seekers, most of whom were arriving on foot from the Balkan route to take refuge in Europe.
"Those who were not caught by the police would get here exhausted, with holes in their shoes, weakened after such a journey, thirsty, hungry, and cold," said Loïc Le Dall, president of Emmaüs Roya, a community of people using agriculture to integrate refugees and asylum seekers in France.
The local NGO was founded by Cédric Herrou, a French farmer and migrant rights defender, in the Roya Valley, in southeast France, in 2019. He made headlines after being jailed for helping thousands of asylum seekers crossing from Italy into France.
"While some sow hatred, others grow the land," he said at the time.
So far, Emmaüs Roya has helped several thousand people, according to Le Dall. The self-sufficient community offers people a place to stay, food, and clothes. They also help provide health insurance, a pension, and a community allowance in exchange for participating in farm work.
The income made from selling agricultural products is used to support the community.
"Here, asylum seekers feel useful for society by participating in a project of common interest. It's very important because many asylum seekers wait and see, as their lives are being paced by asylum-related administrative procedures," Le Dall told Global Citizen.
How can you help?
If you like working the land, you can volunteer and help Emmaüs Roya grow its community. Le Dall also added that people all around the world can help simply by learning more about asylum and migration rights.
“We shouldn't wait for others to come up with solutions, but instead come together to develop a common project to promote social justice and ecology,” said Le Dall.
6. Ovale Citoyen
Ovale Citoyen created the first rugby team in France bringing together refugees, asylum seekers, migrants and homeless people.
Ovale Citoyen created the first rugby team in France bringing together refugees, asylum seekers, migrants, and people experiencing homelessness.
It has given a hand, so far, to over 500 people, including refugees and asylum seekers.
"Sport fosters inclusion and integration," said Jeff Puech, director of Ovale Citoyen. "It mitigates bias, promotes dialogue, and aims to end all forms of discrimination."
The NGO also gives refugee players access to health services, French language classes. and legal and administrative support to open a bank account and, ultimately, find a job in France.
How can you help?
If you are the head of a sports club or a sport program anywhere in the world, you can sign an inclusive sport charter to integrate people from different cultural backgrounds.
If you are in France, you can also volunteer with Ovale Citoyen and organize activities, such as cooking classes, with refugees and asylum seekers to help bridge the cultural gap.