Take Action: Global Refugee Crisis

At the March 1st Stanford OpenXChange event, “When the World is Aflame,” FSI Director and Senior Fellow, Michael McFaul challenged students and the campus community to get informed and get involved with global issues that they are passionate about. As a response to overwhelming interest, we present ways to get engaged on the Syrian Refugee Crisis, and refugees worldwide. The most important way to get involved is to know something. Educate yourself about the situation. Read the news, know the push and pull factors, and know the role that your government, international NGOs, intergovernmental organizations, and your community play in supporting refugees around the world.

How big is the current global refugee crisis?

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees estimates that as of 2015, there are 14.4 million refugees around the world, and an additional 32.3 million internally displaced people (IDP) living within the borders of their own countries. The total number of displaced people worldwide is the highest it has been since the end of World War II. At 4.8 million people, Syrian refugees make up one third of the total global refugees right now. However, large numbers of refugees are forced to move because of conflicts, ethnic persecution and climate change around the world, including large numbers from war in Afghanistan and the horn of Africa, criminal violence in Central America, ethnic conflicts in Southeast Asia, and rising sea levels on the Pacific Islands.

What has caused the surge in refugees from Syria?

Refugees don’t choose to leave. Syrians are fleeing a complex civil uprising and oppressive government actions. Taking the time to understand the root causes of this crisis is one of the most valuable things you can do. This is as simple as reading the news. For background on the Syrian civil war, check out summary pieces from international news organizations, such as “The story of the conflict” from the BBC, “The confused person’s guide to the Syrian Civil War” from the Atlantic, or “The war in Syria explained in five minutes” from the Guardian. Additionally, writer Jackie Roche and cartoonist/illustrator Audrey Quinn created a short graphic novel on “Syria’s Climate Conflict.” Explore the related articles!

Where do refugees go?

Many refugees do not have a passport or legal travel document and cannot obtain one from their government. Unable to board a plane, they flee their country of origin over land or water. As a result, almost half (1.8 million) of Syria’s refugees currently reside in neighboring Turkey, and over a million more in tiny Lebanon, where one fifth of the country’s population is now from Syria. The UNHCR maintains robust statistical datasets on these trends.

How easy is it to get refugee status in the U.S.?

In a word, complicated. So complicated, in fact, that the White House put together this rather pessimistic infographic on the complex and discouraging process of gaining refugee entry into the U.S. The American Immigration Council, a nonpartisan organization, has prepared this more simplified fact sheet on U.S. refugee law and policy.

What can you do right now?

On October 8, 2015, President Obama put out a call to #AidRefugees. There are many ways, both great and small, that you can take up that call to action right here on campus. Get involved with one of the on-campus organizations engaged in advocacy. Enroll in a course on refugees. Attend an event on the refugee crisis. Donate to an international organization working with refugees. Volunteer for a Bay Area non-profit serving refugee communities. Learn about technological innovations that are improving the lives of displaced people. Organize a discussion group in your dorm or community. Write a letter to your congressperson. Tell people about the issue. We have provided a list of links below to help you get involved.

On-Campus Organizations

Spring Quarter Courses

International Organizations*


  • Better Shelter, partnered with IKEA and UNHCR to provide better temporary shelter for refugees.

  • EduApp4Syria, a competition to develop a smartphone-based education app for Syrian children

Bay area organizations*

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*FSI does not directly endorse any of these organizations.