Prologue: As I am near finishing writing this article, France witnessed the worst ever terrorist attack on its soil. As an immediate reaction, the borders have been shut and there is a public outcry in Europe – not only in the nationalist parties, but amongst general public, to stop Syrian immigrants entering Europe. Rallies held in numerous Eastern European countries as well as in France and the UK, for sending back the refugees waiting to be resettled. The Italian speaking province in Switzerland banned the burqa or niqab. Donald Trump in the US spoke about creating a database for Muslims in the country. Several states in the US revoked the pledge to accept refugees. Greek coastguards were witnessed to be trying to sink boats filled with refugees. The abject discrimination against the Syrian refugees is just one of many examples of the persecutions of the refugees in today’s apparently modern world…
An obituary to Aylan Kurdi
Aylan Kurdi. The entire world now knows the name of this child. His limp innocent body on the seashore of Turkey made us all realise what the refugees are going through, and what losses they are suffering just to give a safe life to their offspring and families. Aylan’s death brought our world to a standstill, and it dawned on us how insensitive our values have become, when it took death of a three year old boy, whose last words to his dad was “Papa, don’t die”, for the world to empathise with the miseries of the refugees and react to the crisis. After a few days of online philanthropy, Aylan’s little body will fade away from our memory, the world will become an indifferent, fragmented place again, where we don’t know and don’t care how lives of other human beings are constantly put under threat in other corners of the world. But I won’t forget you little Aylan Kurdi, your angelic smile, and every time I’ll think of you, I will have tears in my eyes, for your death that was so unnecessary, so cruel, and I will be angry at the world, who watched by as your little hands lost the grip of your father, until the waves carried you to the shore. I don’t believe in heaven or hell, but I will say rest in peace little Aylan, you are finally safe, to eternity…
Aylan Kurdi’s body found on the Turkish cost Source: WSJ
I am fascinated by anthropology and a recent visit to the Natural History Museum in London opened my eyes to time — the most important dimension we never have the full appreciation of, and the scale of it. When we think that our planet Earth is 4.5 billion years old with geological periods lasting millions of years, during which, dinosaurs have ruled the world and became extinct, and the first human beings only appeared one million years ago — putting that time into perspective, the earliest discovered human civilisation around 8000 years ago means we humans are only a microscopic part of a jigsaw that is our universe. Since the first human beings appeared in Africa, they were eternal ramblers, always looking to voyage for great unknowns and finding pastures green. Driven by the carnal desire for a better habitat, abundance of food or simply evading the conflicts of leadership, these early humans dispersed from Africa to Central Asia, Americas then through Bering Strait into Far East. The stories of migration and exploration of our ancestors fascinate us and make us marvel at the phenomenal progress of the human civilisation since time unknown. Yet, standing in the 21st century, where mankind achieved exponentially since those prehistoric times and pushed the boundaries of human capabilities beyond belief, on the humanitarian front it is shameful that we have not extricated ourselves from the vices and superstitions characteristic of those ancient times. The shameful manifestation of anti-migration views in world’s most advanced countries is a stark example, whereby with these malicious feelings, people are denouncing the very existence of their evolution. Rather than wonder and encourage it, migration has become a stigma of our time.
Writing about migration is quite contentious as the public opinion seems to be bifurcated — half the population is usually against it and nearly the other half does not know much about it — only leaving a small fraction of people, who actually understand the situation and care about crises. The definition of migration is the first stumbling block. There are so many different words used in the media — migrant, immigrant, refugee, émigré. Without trying to open Oxford dictionary, the broad definition of immigrant denotes a generic term referring anyone living in a foreign country; it does not depend on the reason. On the other hand, popular connotations of an émigré exude a sense of superiority, belonging to the upper echelon of the social tiers of a country, but in real terms they are opposite of immigrants, citizens of a country emigrated abroad mainly for career prospects. The remainder two — migrants and refugees, are the most widely used terms in the context of migration. They both refer to the people leaving a country or region, mainly the places where they were born, in order to live in another country. Although both of these terms can be classified by the noun Migration, the fundamental differences between these two terms have been largely overlooked or purposefully misused by the world media. Whilst migrants are affected by the present situation of their country, the catalyst to move to another country or another part of the world is mainly economical, driven by their ambitions to achieve something for themselves or provide a better future for their future generations. Refugees, on the contrary, are forced to abandon their habitat and move to another country for a safe haven, that their country cannot provide. Migrants are driven by an aspirational issue, whilst refugee or asylum seeking is existential — the survival depends on escaping the habitat — be it from genocide, autocracy, religion, famine, endemic or militias. The burning example of the purposed or erratic misuse of terms referring migration is the context of the Syrian crisis, where the refugees are often referred as migrants. The bias of right wing press is obvious, but the liberal media often followed the bandwagon quoting the millions of homeless victims of religious crossfire between the Assad regime and ISIL as migrants, not refugees.
Migration and asylum is an issue very close to my heart as my entire life has circled around listening to stories of migration — forced and consensual, or witness the post-migration impacts on refugees’ lives. Both my parents were born in the Indian provinces in post-partition East Pakistan, to be later called Bangladesh. Threatened by the religious genocide between 1947 and 1971, like millions of other Hindu families, my parents fled their troubled homes to India, then struggled all their life to make lives of our generation better. Thus, the stories of their struggle and sufferings made one detest the factors that incited the migration, but on the other hand kindled hope and optimism, provided us a raison d’être to give a meaning to their fight. My parents risked their lives to flee a region becoming exponentially volatile for the sake of their lives and subsequently sacrificed rest of their lives — trying to make our lives free of such trauma, once they found a safe livelihood in India. HOME became a sacred word; my father always wanted to have a house of his own that he could say is home — a sense of belonging to a piece of earth, a dream that has eluded him all his life, and now that I have migrated to the UK pursuing my aspirations, he always asks me to have a home of my own. Like him, I have uprooted myself from the place where I was born, leaving behind everything and everyone known. However, I am a migrant, whilst my father was a refugee, and our account of moving from our country is completely different — I can reminisce the past days through rose-tinted glasses, but for my father, it probably was a time he rather forgot or wished never happened to him. This essay is therefore like a lens, looking through my entire life and building up the hypotheses based on anecdotes, information and experiences gathered along the journey so far.
Refugees from Bangladesh leaving for India
From time immemorial human migration has been taking place, as our ancestors continuously strived for better living conditions. The modern civilisation in its current form would not exist, had the primordial men and women not migrated. However, limiting our focus only on twentieth century would show what factors instigated migrations and socio-political unbalance. The biggest contributor to the social unrest are two — politics and religion. In most cases these two factors are intertwined, perhaps politics of religion could aptly include the two causes. Regardless of the semantics, politics and religion, the invasive nature of both these factors are incited by wealth. Looking at the single biggest incident that destabilised the entire world — from Middle-East to Americas and Far-East, is Communism. But at the heart of the Communism debate and the Cold War lies the capitalist world’s fear of mass movement of the oppressed to demand their share of the profit. It is Wealth what incited the Cold War and the resultant arms race, that contributed the complete destabilisation of the political system in the Middle-East, the home of the biggest refugee crisis in recent times or the breeding ground for the cause of it — religious fanaticism — through obliteration of any working liberal governance in the region. On the other hand, fall of Soviet Union saw collapse of entire Eastern Bloc countries especially the complete dissolution of the Yugoslavia, creating religious factions all trying to have a land they can claim their own.
The other biggest component is of course Colonialism — its spectre plagued the entire world. Like politics and religion, colonialism is also fuelled by wealth, perhaps with a more overt correlation. Starting with the Spanish and Portuguese, the hunger for power and wealth soon spread to the rest of the Western Europe during the middle ages. In the modern post-Renaissance era, the worst perpetrators are still the British, but not far behind will be the French, Dutch, Flemish/Belgians, Germans. Whilst many scholars recently argue about the benefits of colonialism to the developing countries, it is without doubt that any such supposed benefits came at a much heftier cost the countries didn’t deserve or choose to pay. There has been mass exodus during these colonial regimes with people trying to flee the atrocities and famines. After WWII, with the cost of running the colonies skyrocketing, the resources thoroughly exploited and depleted and finally the ghost of two great wars haunting the developed world, the rulers left the colonies in ruins having plundered all the resources over hundreds of years. The colonised countries, with the skeleton of infrastructure from their exploited past, became breeding grounds for class division, corruption, nepotism and racial/religious fission. Africa was one of the worst hit continents picking up pieces together to form countries, but managed to be embroiled in bloody tribal wars that has possibly seen the most number of mass migration. Famine, endemics followed suite as a result of unsustainable exploitation of natural and human resources. The Middle-East, already waged into turbulent sectarian conflicts amongst member states were further destabilised by formation of Israel, and the west’s pledge to sponsor its atrocities later on. On the other hand, the sub-continent was scarred forever with religious conflicts. The wave of religious hatred even engulfed the far reaches of Myanmar, where the Bangladeshi Rohingya tribes are forced to migrate to as far as Malaysia to avoid the violence. The Divide and Rule ploy not only split countries, neighbourhoods and families into pieces, but also fuelled the conflict amongst them, in order to profit from the arms deals. It is the biggest mockery of our times that the G8 countries are purported as harbingers of world peace, yet all of them are the biggest arms dealers in the world, responsible for most of the armed conflicts in one way or another!
These are some of the underlying factors that coerce people to move out of their homeland, abandoning their habitat and familiar surroundings for hundreds and thousands of years. Looking at the other side of the spectrum on the refugee crises — regarding the rehabilitation and integration of refugees in the countries they seek shelter in — the situation is much worse. Although not for the reasons we see in today’s world, human migration is an undeniable and unavoidable phenomenon — it will never stop, as the end of it will mean people stopped dreaming and aspiring. It will mean that we have become a defeated race on earth and a superior species will rise to throw us down the precipice of anthropological oblivion. Hence, considering human migration is an unequivocal fact, it would be a completely different story, if people at different corners of the world wanted/was forced to move at another region and their exodus did not encounter any resistance. Looking at the legendary settlers, they moved to barren lands and built civilisations. The nomadic nature of our ancestors is completely undermined in the present society, more so in the so called developed world than the other parts. In an ideal situation, these people need not flee their habitat, but if that can’t be prevented, the next best scenario would be that they all found a safe refuge, and if the countries in the developed world can boast about their social infrastructure, they should be the forerunners in providing shelters for these refugees.
Instead, the refugee crises across the world paints picture completely in contrast with what should have happened. The biggest instigators of the migration crises are the ones who are most vociferous against immigration on their land. The hypocrisy of the US, UK and Saudi Arabia in mitigating the Syrian refugee crises are at best shocking, at worst abhorrent. Considering US is not directly affected by the Syrian migration as is Europe, and their pledge to receive some of the Syrian refugees is commendable, the US foreign policy in the Middle East especially backing Israel in the Palestine conflict has long destabilised the balance of the region. UK, the sidekick in the US affairs, has become a myopic xenophobic state under the Tory regime, but the roots go much deeper. Against what is commonly purported as quintessential British values, the public psyche has done a complete volte-face and suddenly became nationalist, utterly intolerant and devoid of any compassion or empathy. The Syrian migration crisis was a perfect platform for the government to prove that it there is still a voice of reason within the party whip, but the decision to take a paltry 20,000 refugees over five years simply quashed that expectation. When millions of Syrian refugees fled the country — being caught on the crossfire between autocratic Assad regime and the ISIL terrorists, the gulf nations played silent bystanders sitting on their petro-dollars. On the other hand, rather than taking refugees or at least sending aides, the astounding decision by Saudi Arabia to build mosques in Germany defeats all reasons. Australia, on the other hand puts any asylum seekers or refugees to other oceanic countries to make them receive financial aid from Australia. With an enormous, albeit not entirely habitable landmass, passing the responsibility to another country is equally brazen.
What the refugees are facing, especially trying to move to a country in the developed world e.g. Europe, US, Australia etc, is extremely inhuman. Their fate is met with the cold calculating political impasse by the countries they seek refuge in or use as an entrepôt en route their final destination. These governments believe in the economy of war, and the politics of fear. Keeping people misinformed and fearful of the refugee situation would then justify armed action, thriving the economy of war. This is why, accepting 20,000 refugees took Britain to think about it for a week, whilst the decision will probably be taken in unison about sending troops in Syria, which will cost millions of taxpayer money. Helping the refugees settle could have made lives of thousands more refugees waiting to be accepted more bearable after the horrific spell they have been through. During the temporary phase of public outcry to support Syrian refugees, there was one banner that became much circulated — you don’t put your children in water if the land was safer. The desperate situation these people are put into, caught in a complicated web of power, politics, religion and wealth; yet, other than countries like Germany and Sweden, with reference to Syrian crisis, what the other developed nations are doing can be termed as tumbleweed.
However, there is a more sinister twist in the situation that will need unveiling more urgently. Governments, and on much wider terms, all mainstream political parties, are the mirrors to the public psyche, and they hardly take a stance for the greater good, when the majority of the population is either unaware or misinformed about the actual situation and are against the policy. Looking at the reluctance of the governments to provide help to the refugees, it is merely a replication of the unwillingness or even the antipathy of the public against the migrants. The rising levels of nationalist and anti-immigrant sentiment is not only witnessed in my present residence in the UK, but it is observed everywhere else, where there is a migrant influx in the country. In the UK, it has become a very clichéd practice now, to blame the eastern European migrants as root cause for all problems. Treatment of Syrian refugees in Eastern European countries in recent times was absolutely diabolical. How the men were separated from women and children is a stark reminder of the biggest genocide against migrants in Europe since WWII — Srebrenica — a lesson in history that was pledged never to be repeated. In India, there is a growing voice against people fleeing communalism and religious persecution from neighbouring Bangladesh. Even within the country itself, migrant workers from other states are often targeted by the right-wing local hooligan parties. A common trend emerges from all these snapshots from a wide geographical span — that it is the common working class people, the majority of the population, who are against the refugees migrating to their country. This makes one wonder, why are so many hard working people, who are often characterised by the brother’s keeper mindset, antagonise their counterparts from another part of the country?
The answer lies in the panic-mongering of the political parties and migrants often prove to be the perfect red herring, a scapegoat to divert people’s attention from real issues. In very few societies across the world would one find working class keeping abreast of the current affairs and form their opinion on those issues. In absence of an alternative voice of reason, the capitalist led media diabolically steered the attention to all the crises their economies faced, to migrants. Housing, education, employment, economy — migrants are portrayed as bloodsuckers on all facets, purportedly depriving the citizens of the benefits. This antagonism is served with a twist of past glory — jingoistic nationalism, where everything was hunky dory when the countries/regions were made of indigenous people of same colour, language and religion. With a barrage of such twisted media representation, the working class begins to think that their predicament is somehow attributable to the migrants, not the actual perpetrators in their high citadels. These reportings are bolstered by statistics to make them appear more authentic, whereas the figures are at best misrepresentative at worst fraudulent. Duped by these statistical figures, the general public saw the data in front of their eyes, and in absence of critically analysing the information or the lack of time for it, a different and alternative image of the refugees starts to build in the eyes of the working class of the country. Refugees are demonised to let the political parties and their cronies in the high echelon of the society continue to carry out more sinister plots to rob the poor.
There are more to blame than just the media and the politicians. The working class people in any country tend to show tendency of prejudices — be it racial, sexual, cultural or lingual. It is the prejudice of the common people of a country — people the refugees are most likely to interact with — that makes the integration of the immigrants into the society much difficult. And here, the difference between an migrant and a refugee becomes starkly visible. Migrants often possess skills to offer to the host country, and with an income source, although social ostracism couldn’t be avoided, they can ignore it and lead a normal life. On the other hand, refugees — although depending on the crisis they can be from any class in the society — consist of mainly the working class to unskilled class of the population. They are expected to re-educate, retrain and all at the same time whilst they try to resettle in a completely alien land and culture. Remembering tales heard from my dad, to the story of a Hungarian cleaner in London or story of the first Romanian arriving in Britain or the harrowing mistreatment a of the Syrian refugees in Eastern Europe — they all spell the same story of mistrust, vilification and discrimination of the migrant/refugees by the common people in the host country. Apart from being discriminated for being different from the country’s indigenous population, there is also a pressure on the refugees to become like one of the model citizens of the adoptive country — prove their allegiance to the host country at every instant. This is why a Muslim is expected in western world to constantly denounce and castigate any acts of Muslim extremism, whereas no one no one heard a similar plea from every Christian during the Anders Breivik massacre. Likewise, all migrants are expected to don a poppy on Remembrance Day, a Bangladeshi refugee in India is expected to say jal instead of paani for water, a Romanian migrant has to declare to the camera that he is there to work and not to live on benefits.
Also there is another dimension in this conundrum regarding the refugee crisis, which is the racial bias of people — direct or subconscious. The sad and cruel demise of little Aylan Kurdi can never be included for a political justification, but the arrival of Syrian refugees in the doorstep of Europe posed another challenge for the local authorities. In one side there was religion, where communities that are not coherent with people from different religion and cultural background. On the other side there is a preference for race. This is why Syrian refugees have received a much warmer welcome than the ones still waiting in Calais. One would not fail to notice that despite the threat of extremism, Syrians lack a stereotype image, as opposed to the black African migrants from war torn east Africa. The fact, that the refugees in Calais have been waiting for asylum much longer in inhabitable living conditions, has been completely overlooked by the populist media and politicians alike, due to stereotyping and character profiling of African immigrants. A similar approach was observed during the last Indian general election when the would be prime minister Modi proclaimed that the Hindus in neighbouring Bangladesh are more than welcome to rehabilitate in India if they faced communal violence, but the Muslims won’t be allowed in, despite India being a republic. Even in Europe, the discrimination against Roma tribes are well observed and the lack of media/social uproar exemplifies that the media only broadcasts sensationalist news. The undercurrent of racism against migrants became blatantly obvious during shameful veto in EU by the Eastern European countries, during the discussion of the quota of refugees each member state will need to take. Statements coming from Slovak prime minister that they (Muslims) won’t be welcome in Slovakia because there are no mosques or the Hungarian right wing photographer kicking and trying to trip a Syrian refugee, to Daily Mail likening the refugees to rats as did the Nazi campaigns in 1939, to David Cameron referring refugees to swarms — the hostility of the recipient nations became clear either through action or the choice of words in the context.
Refugee camp in Calais “Jungle”
There is a counter-argument by various countries against immigration. Why would a country accept refugees? A country has limited resource, living space and social infrastructure that cannot be widely altered within a short time span. Based on the resource constraints, a country cannot take more refugees beyond a sustainable number. However, this needs to be measured as a direct difference between the people arriving in the country and the citizens emigrating — not the net value of the immigration. “We are full, there is no more space” may be a compelling argument for the UK for the limited habitable landmass, but certainly not for the US or mainland Europe or the subcontinent. But answering why a country should provide refuge to the immigrants, the focus cannot be the based on just geography and economy. The first question to be asked is whether any recipient country is directly or indirectly responsible for causing or aggravating the situation. If the answer is yes then it becomes a direct responsibility of that country to help out the refugees sacrificing their entire life. For example it becomes a direct responsibility of the US to support the Palestine refugees caused by Israel, empowered by a divisive US foreign policy. Or in case of Syria, although Turkey is involved indirectly, they are also the home for the biggest refugees with the numbers surpassing 1.5 million. However, beyond such examples, all countries should reach out for helping the refugees on humanitarian grounds alone. Without being directly involved, Germany will accept close to a million refugees being a responsible member of the EU to stop innocent people die. Sweden’s pledge to receive hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees also demonstrates that despite the dismal turn of events the refugees went through, thanks to countries like Germany, Sweden, Turkey or Jordan, a large number of displaced immigrants have found rehabilitation and a new beginning to regain the rhythm of life back. On the contrary, the gross ignorance of the governments of UK and Eastern Europe as well as the mistreatments by the authorities in Greece and Hungary paints a dire picture, where countries either not taking up the responsibility or totally indifferent to the trauma and persecutions faced by these refugees.
However, as mentioned above, there are silver linings in this dreary situation, by looking at the positive message portrayed by actions of various countries. Apart from Germany and Scandinavia, whilst the government reaction was otherwise abysmal, general public welcomed the Syrian refugees with a lot more generosity. Despite a large part of the population in every country being sceptical about migrants, a considerably large part of the population in every country in Western Europe welcomed the refugees with open arms, and went to great lengths to help them. Starting from a welcome message of solidarity across football stadiums to people sending essential necessity goods to the refugees in their van driving thousand kilometres — the extent of help received was spellbinding. Apart from general public, the charities and non-profit organisations have been tirelessly working to provide the basic necessities such as water, tents, warm clothes, medicines. In the UK, wherever the right wing groups attempted to convene a rally opposing the intake of refugees, their malicious voices were doused by considerably large contingents of the liberal members of the society, the #refugeeswelcome movement filled in the entire Trafalgar square with equal spontaneity as it did in the social media. Whilst the western Europe is still ignorant on other refugees waiting for months, even years, in the camps in Calais, the aids extended to the Syrian refugees will certainly provide more impetus on other countries around the world. Despite being in a much weaker economic situation, a parallel could be observed in the subcontinent during past few decades, where the Bengali society in the Indian part of Bengal has long been supporting all the refugees coming from eastern part presently known as Bangladesh. As I witnessed throughout my life, despite the cultural dissimilarities, the members of the society created a space common to all, making everyone equally welcome.
So, what will happen to the millions of refugees, uprooting themselves from the land of their origin, setting off to a far flung place? Will our ever expanding horizon of knowledge and humanity eradicate the utterly unfair marginalisation of the unfortunate refugees? Will the precursors to the forced human movement across the globe be eliminated, so the existential migration become an antiquated phenomenon? Part of the answer is held in the history. Looking back in history, it paints the most optimistic picture on the crisis. History is a greatest leveller. In essence, it proved the Darwinian theory of survival of the fittest, whilst creating a human race superior to the previous generations. Human race, since time immemorial has fought many battles for survival and it became stronger with every conquest. Old civilizations perish away whilst the new ones flourish. The melting pot of the Syrian refugee crisis — the Middle-East, has once been the prosperous place where the entire western and Indic population originated from – Assyria, Persia, Mesopotamia, Sumer – these places have been decimated to rubbles. Past glory of Roman and Greek empire faded away over thousands of years. Now, Greece is a state asking for handouts from the IMF whilst Italy is not far behind. On the other hand, the rise of the East in the recent past was phenomenal, after a long hiatus. And during all these periods, human civilisation never stalled, and it survived. There is already a tendency for the skilled workforce to be emigrating to the East from the western world, contrary to the trend observed previously. Although this is not overwhelming, the movement is palpable. As for the refugees, who are forced to migrate influenced by other determinants, the biggest obstacle amongst their way is religion and illiteracy. And the lack of wealth. Even in the 21st century, we are divided as we have been 2000 years ago. Unless UN plays a big part in bringing all countries under one umbrella and have a holistic plan on how to tackle the problems globally, the situation will take a long time to stabilise. The UN motion in recent past to eradicate ISIL was a landmark step forward to reinstate some balance and equilibrium in the Middle-East and North Africa, the source of the biggest refugee crisis. The answer lies with us, the rest of the world. If we play a role of mere spectators, this will take decades if not centuries to stabilise and elevate the living standards of millions of refugees. Those who survived the perilous passage to a safe abode, their life has just began after passing through the numerous barbed wire fences we call borders, overcoming the threats of sea, deserts and mountains. Their new life perhaps consists of a suitcase full of clothes and a heart full of hope — hope to make a new beginning.
Human migration is a tour de force, an unavoidable phenomenon. This is how the world is shaped to the world we live in — a connected entity from pockets of civilisations sprouting at different corners of earth since prehistoric times. Migration has taught us to be resilient against all adversities — natural or human. It taught us to be adaptive, to innovate and evolve. We pushed our boundaries with every voyage made, every new land found, every civilisations formed. Remembering a documentary about the Sentinelese people, bolstered the fact that if the first humans did not migrate, we would still be living in Stone Age— being hunter gatherers. Not blinkered by countries or religions – these tales of eternal explorative nature of the human race makes us proud of our lineage. Although the persecutions suffered by the refugees are inhuman, their stories are not short of a modern day version of the fairy tales, exemplifying their grit and sacrifice, their courage under fire. As much as their sufferings make us angry, and helpless, their tales rekindle our hope on humanity. It reinforced a belief that the humans will progress, eradicating all evils. Like Huns or Nazis, ISIL will be history, intolerance will be history, boundaries will be history, as will our language and religion — following the path of human development. We will not witness any more lifeless Aylan Kurdi’s floating ashore. This fills us with hope for a better tomorrow, for we are the perpetual nomads. We can stand together for the refugees, as we are the migrants ourselves. Ignoring this would be tantamount to abnegating our human existence.
Post Script: If one ever wonders how they could support refugees in their locality or remotely, the options are limitless. Perhaps the short list below would provide some ideas how they can be helped and showed solidarity and compassion.
• They need essential supplies – food, clothes, sanitation. Send money or buy items they require.
• Preferably use charities or non-profit organisations for sending money, and GiftAid it to make the contributions bigger.
• Send used clothes through charities.
• If possible, do volunteering work in shelters.
• Donate books for children, and toys.
• Share the spare room to house a refugee until they are offered asylum.
• Sign petitions for the governments to act on them and spread awareness on social media.
• The last but not the least, if you cannot do any of the above, at least show solidarity towards the refugees as fellow human beings. They might not be aware of cultures and custom of your country yet, and with the trauma of being uprooted, it takes a long time to acclimatise. Be courteous to them at social surroundings when you come across the refugees, and be patient. A smile can make a massive difference on how welcome they feel to your society.