my alternative Christmas Presents List: 12 refugee aid small NGOs & volunteer groups

Christmas presents weren’t originally for family and friends, but were for those who really need them, however unfamiliar or far away they are.

I have made small donations (25€) to each of these, and I recommend you do too. I’m saying so publicly, unlike St Nicholas and contrary to Matthew 6:3-4, because I want to encourage others to reject the capitalist norm of spending so much on presents for family and friends that we then feel we can’t afford to give that much to people who really need help much more seriously but aren’t family, so first I have put my money where my mouth is.

The tradition of giving presents to family and friends derives from a 19thC Dutch tradition of sailors involved in the colonial shipping trade who bought gifts for their children after participating in a procession representing St Nicholas and his Black servant (which is false and insulting to the saint), in which presents were given to the Dutch workers involved in colonial trade as a legitimative ritual for colonial enslavement and expropriation. The partiality of giving presents to family who don’t really need anything while ignoring the much more serious needs of other people who don’t happen to be kin or reciprocally useful to us legitimates the capitalist principles of transmitting wealth and power down the generations in a family and degrading the value of human personhood to instrumentality. I don’t feel this tradition belongs to Christmas.

St Nicholas of Myra was a Greek bishop in what is now Turkey, and his famous gifts were intended to be secret, to three girls to pay for their dowries so that they could get married (accepting the constraints of the time), instead of being sold into slavery and then repeatedly raped. Their father discovered who had dropped the purses of money through their window shutters, thanked him, and then his gifts became famous. He also physically intervened to stop an execution, putting himself at risk. He is depicted wearing a red chasuble because he was martyred under torture by order of the emperor Diocletian. He wasn’t Northern European or White, probably not fat, no sleigh, no reindeer, and probably not particularly jolly.

I’ve mostly stopped giving Christmas presents to family and friends, except for children. Instead of spending mainly on presents for family and friends and maybe a little for people really in need, I do the opposite, and I recommend you do too. The ‘Christmas’ traditions of now are only about 170 yrs old. I call the modern capitalist winter festival Consumerismas.

Modern ‘Christmas’ traditions are an amalgam of capitalism, Norse pagan Yule (e.g. ‘Christmas trees’), and a few Christian and Jewish cultural elements. Yule and consumerist capitalism go nicely together, but they aren’t really meaningfully compatible with the meaning of Advent and Christmas. Even for most Christians, the Christian elements have been suppressed by the cultural obligations of consumerist capitalism and Yule.

Christmas isn’t mainly about ‘Father Christmas’, but about the mysteries of the Incarnation and its practical implications, shown in the lives of the Holy Family, and preparing for Christ’s appearance in the world — first as a poor, refugee baby, second as divine judgement. As Pope Francis says: “no-one is saved alone” — we are saved through our commitments to others, or not.

“The poor he has filled with good things, and the rich he sent empty away.”
(From the Magnificat, Luke 1:46–55, Mary’s exclamation of holy joy.)

My Christmas presents list:

Pomegranate Project is refugee women’s domestic violence shelter and livelihood project in Athens, which helps to prevent them being economically compelled to engage in transactional sex for money.

2. The Aman Project — directly funds safe accommodation and emergency financial aid to LGBTI refugees in Turkey. They previously had a shelter / safe house, but they couldn’t afford to keep that house going.

More recent updates https://www.facebook.com/amanshelter

Paypal donation link-

Aws who runs Aman Project’s fundraising is in the process of setting up a Chuffed fundraising page, which has much lower processing fees. You can check on their Facebook page if that method of donating is available now.

3. Sant’Egidio Christmas presents and meal fund for the homeless and vulnerably housed in the Netherlands, including undocumented migrants who are in contact with the Sant’Egidio community in Amsterdam-

Sant’Egidio Humanitarian Corridor scheme — is the best safe and legal route for refugees, so far it’s only accessible from Lebanon, and only to Italy, France or Belgium, via humanitarian visas and fully supported.

Sant’Egidio Community’s deal with the French, Italian and Belgian governments who issue the visas is that Sant’Egidio pays for everything, so if they can fund more places, they can get more people humanitarian visas.

Detailed report about the operation of the Humanitarian Corridor scheme —

Sant’Egidio Community in Rome also runs a homeless shelter and refugee accommodation, which are in two palaces donated by Pope Francis —

5. Borderlands refugee support services in Bristol, UK.

Based in my old parish in Bristol, UK. Outside Covid19 time, Borderlands provides a complete set of services via the Drop-in centre, including: food, English classes, mental health support, help with accessing accommodation, higher education, legal aid, and the MP’s caseworkers.

6. Moria White Helmets, via Donate4Refugees

About facebook.com/MoriaWhiteHelmets

The White Helmets volunteers originate in Syria where they mainly rescue people when they’ve been bombed by the Assad and Russian regime airforce, but now in Moria they also do drainage and sanitation work, electrical safety engineering, and provide their volunteers and their families with weekly supplementary food packs. White Helmets Moria now includes refugees from all over, with a Moria White Helmets Farsi Team for Farsi speakers.

7. Proactiva Open Arms, marine search and rescue boats operating in the Mediterranean for people in distress at sea who are prima facie refugees attempting to enter irregularly to apply for asylum, so they are not rescued when they are in distress at sea by the state coastguard agencies now, but if the state coastguard agencies catch them before they have entered EU territorial waters they drag them back to Libya to detention where they often suffer serious harm and almost none can access international protection procedures. In 2019, a refugee detention centre was targeted by a UAE jet fighting for ex-Qaddafi regime General Haftar’s forces.*

Since the EU cancelled Mare Nostrum state provision of marine search and rescue and commissions the Libyan coastguard to forcibly return people to Libya, despite European courts recognizing that Libya is not safe for asylum seekers, there has been a struggle in the courts and in public discourse between European governments who aim to stop refugees arriving irregularly “by any means necessary” vs. the civil marine rescue NGOs who continue to rescue people at sea and to advocate for their human rights.

Part of the Civil Rescue fleet is a legal monitoring organisation with two boats

Their focus is on recording illegal pushbacks and refoulements which occur at sea, and countering government fictions with well-documented facts, so that eventually authorities may be obliged to accept reality and the law.

8. Christmas presents for Chios refugees via Balloona Matata, a Spanish small refugee aid NGO who’ve done this for four years, and via Jenny and Kostas, long-term local volunteers on Chios. Kostas was running the Chios local volunteers’ kitchen who provided one good hot meal a day for many of the refugees on Chios, and some local people in need, until local fascists burned down their kitchen and warehouse. Jenny is a school teacher and informally mentors some of the refugee teenagers without parents.

Balloona Matata
ES95 1491 0001 2230 0010 3489
Triodos Bank

Or via paypal (may have transfer lower fees if you’re transferring from outside EU or if you don’t have a Transferwise account):

balloonamatata@gmail.com

9. Josoor International — aid to victims of border violence and monitoring, based in Turkey

“Since March 2020, Josoor has partnered up with several other initiatives and individual volunteers to provide relief efforts for victims of pushbacks and other refugees in need all over Turkey.

At the same time and as part of the Border Violence Monitoring Network, we are monitoring human rights violations on the borders between Turkey and the EU while cooperating with international media and investigative research networks to publish these human rights violations in an effort to pressure the European Union to finally implement its theoretical principles in practice.”

The daily violence and refoulements at the Turkish-Syrian and Greek borders are commissioned by the EU, in exchange for payments of up to 6bn€.

Josoor participated in the European Border Violence Monitoring project of the Black Book documenting the refoulement of over 12,000 people in 3 years

The legal limit of responsibility for forcibly returning or refusing admission to refugees who are seeking entry in order to claim asylum is not whether they are on the territory of the state in question but whether that state has “effective authority or control” — https://www.unhcr.org/4d9486929.pdf Thus, the EU states which are paying for third-party actors to commit refoulement even before refugees can reach EU territories are legally responsible for it. This legal point is usually considered too complicated to explain in mainstream media, and yet it seriously affects millions of people.

10. Are You Syrious?

About https://areyousyrious.eu/

IBAN number: HR68 2402 0061 1007 6518 3

Besides producing a detailed news bulletin about refugees in Europe and affected by Europe gathered from refugees and frontline volunteers every day for the last five years, AYS also provides direct help for refugees in Croatia and Bosnia, two of the hardest countries for those who still attempt the West Balkans trekking and people-smuggling route.

11. Anas Mustafa — Help & Care Trust, registered in Turkey —a small volunteer team of Syrian refugees who deliver food baskets to widows and orphans in the IDP camps in Northern Syria.

About: see Anas’ facebook page for photos of previous food baskets delivered- https://www.facebook.com/anas.almustafa.10/

Account Name: ENES EL MUSTAFA
Iban: TR920001000461845962715001
Swift code= TCZBTR2A
Bank= Ziraat
Bank Branch= Selçuklu/Konya branch.
Bank address: TC Ziraat Bankası Selçuklu Subesi. Nişantaşı Mahallesi Metehan Caddesi No: 4/A Selçuklu / Konya/ Turkey Postal Code: 42000
Anas’ email address linked to his Paypal account: hajeesy@gmail.com

Don’t forget to send money in Turkish currency: Turkish Lira= (TRY). If you send it not in Turkish lira, his bank will reject your transaction. Transferwise has the lowest transfer fee, or Paypal’s fee is lower than most banks.

12. Refugee InfoBus — free Wifi and legal info on a bus for refugees in Calais

Refugees and other migrants in Calais are either avoiding registration in the French asylum system because they expect they would not get fair outcomes or they are registered in the French asylum system but still left destitute.

Access to legal information is vital, as it can get people out of that situation sooner and thus prevent other humanitarian needs from occurring. To enable access to legal information, to lawyers and to contact family, InfoBus also provide free Wifi and phone charging, and free individual legal advice.

If Jesus was born this Christmas, with his family, he would probably be refouled multiple times at the borders of client states commissioned by the EU to stop refugees entering irregularly or reaching EU frontiers to claim asylum.

If they eventually got through the first border, by running over the mountains at night while being shot at, then they’d have to pay 750–1500€ each to cross to Greece in a smugglers boat, with a high chance of getting caught, beaten and dragged back, or a smaller chance of sinking and drowning, a journey which costs 30€ for a 30 minutes ferry ride, if you have the right papers.

If they avoid getting refouled by Greek authorities after landing and before they can get registered for the asylum procedures, then they’d face 2–3 years of Admissibility procedures based on the fictional premise that Turkey is a Safe Third Country*, while being detained on the islands (but it isn’t even acknowledged as “detention”) in degrading and despair-inducing conditions, with the aim of coercing them to sign for “voluntary” return or repatriation, or to not persevere at appealing when they are rejected on admissibility, without even having their substantive claim for asylum heard.

If they escaped from the detention islands and frontier countries, they’d probably have to trek and pay to get smuggled through the West Balkans route, avoiding the craziest, most ultra-nationalistically violent Visegrad Four countries, hiding in the forest at night, hoping to not die of hypothermia while sleeping in the snow, then getting beaten up, robbed and pushed back across borders by police at every border they try to cross, til they reach the Promised Land — for most, Germany. There they’d be kept in refugee accommodation centres for another two years, while authorities search for a legal excuse to forcibly return them to one of the frontier countries, usually Greece or Italy, on admissibility grounds, and again deliberately delaying the legal procedures to discourage them from appealing and as a deterrent to others. During that time, Joseph is not allowed to work, but given state welfare payments which are just enough to support bare life, while he is obliged to perform bureaucratic procedures every week to emphasise that he’s not trusted and might be misspending his 42€ per week allowance, and should feel guilty for being given money when he’s not allowed to work.

If they eventually pass all these artificial obstacles with a risk to life and punitively delayed legal procedures, then they would be expected to socioeconomically and culturally integrate, and be grateful for everything.

All of the above mentioned border violence and punitively delayed procedures based on fictional premises costs far more than it would to implement a realistic and just asylum system and to willingly accept a fair share of global responsibility for forcibly displaced people in need of resettlement. E.g. the budget for Frontex, the EU borders agency, proven complicit in illegal pushbacks, is ten times greater than the budget for EASO, the European Asylum Support Office, even tho EASO has far more legitimate work to do.

Europe has 22% of global GDP each year but willingly accepts only about 0.1575%* of the shared responsibility for forcibly displaced people in need of resettlement to any genuinely safe and free country. Our self-legitimizing and self-aggrandizing claims about believing in human rights are a sick joke now.

It is not that human rights don’t exist or European legislation for them is not good, but European politics is making a mockery of what we claim to believe.

0.1575% of shared responsibility accepted by EU states estimate is based on:

UNHCR Resettlement number to Europe in 2018 (pre-covid19) + Humanitarian Visas issued to EU /
Total number of forcibly displaced people globally

In the week before Christmas, Germany deported thirty Afghan refugees. It is not credible that they really do not have international protection needs or that Afghanistan is safe enough for it to be just to forcibly return anyone there. I have met Afghan refugees who have returned to Europe a second time, after being deported before, because, as they said the first time, they were not safe.

As a bonus if you got this far, here’s a collection of ethnically diverse icons, with zero images of White Jesus or Super-White Mary, preferring images which show a relationship not just an individual, and including this one of Joseph carrying the baby on their journey fleeing from Herod’s persecution —

.

Lapsed biologist retraining as a social data scientist, often writing about refugee rights advocacy and political philosophy.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store