The purpose of the IAVE Forum: Corporate Volunteering Response to the Refugee Challenge was to understand the refugee crisis in Europe, learn how the private sector is currently responding through their employee volunteer programs, and discuss what companies could do individually or collaboratively to respond to the situation. The goal was to inspire new approaches, initiatives, partnerships and action on the refugee crisis.
To put the crisis in perspective in 2012, two million people were displaced by the crisis in Syria and of these, half were children. In 2015, twelve million Syrians fled their homes with over 700,000 Syrians and other refugees risking their lives to travel to Europe.
Volunteers are currently the backbone to the support being offered to people seeking sanctuary in Europe, providing a potent symbol of the importance of volunteers. Volunteers provide refugees with crucial help and care in the form of clothes, food, and shelter plus assistance with integration through language lessons, job training and placement and other support. They also provide an example to others. These voluntary acts of kindness, by huge numbers of citizens, have not only changed and saved refugee’s lives, but they have changed the attitudes of others with regards to how they view and treat newcomers to their communities according to Gabriella Civico, Director of the European Volunteer Center (CEV).
Lejla Sehic Relic shared her perspective as a former Bosnian refugee in Croatia 20 years ago. She explained to Forum attendees how “my whole life was stored in a small bag and it took me a while to recover my dignity”. Four months after arriving Lejla volunteered to work in a refugee camp. Working with other international volunteers on different programs she said gave her knowledge, skills and healing. Because of this experience she founded the Volunteer Center Osijek in Croatia. Last October, working with CARE International, she organized volunteers to assist the 800,000 refugees that began crossing from Serbia into Croatia on their way to Hungary. Refugees often come with a variety of needs, some covered with support of material goods, but they often have no one to listen to their personal stories, as other refugees around them are psychologically unable to cope with hearing and the reliving the stories. Volunteers have helped to fill this need, making their role all the more important.
Individuals have volunteered to help refugees in a myriad of ways – individually, through national volunteer centers, through United Nations Volunteers, and through federal volunteering services services such as the Federal Volunteering Service (The Bundesfreiwilligendienst or BFD- in Germany).