How one woman rallied other refugees to help African students fleeing the war in Ukraine
No one understands the process of forced migration better than people who have been through it.
When news came of African students facing discrimination and abuse while fleeing Ukraine after the Russian invasion last February, community organizer Asmara knew her Germany-based charity dedicated to helping refugees could help.
With the experience Asmara’s World has gained since 2016, they were able to quickly mobilize volunteers, funds, and buses—and a wave of online support via social media—to help 120 students evacuate to Germany.
“Facebook, but especially Instagram, was a great platform where subscribers were made aware of the problem in a very short time and donated over €20,000 within 48 hours, which made the evacuation possible in the first place,” Asmara tells Upworthy. The group also used WhatsApp to communicate directly with the students fleeing. In the months since, Asmara’s World has helped hundreds more young Africans fleeing Ukraine with basics such as housing clothing and hygiene items as they start to rebuild their lives.
The war in Ukraine has dominated the headlines, but the refugee crisis reaches far beyond its borders. At the start of 2022, more than 82 million people were displaced worldwide by war, conflict and other crises. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine pushed that number to over 100 million.
Since no single entity can manage that many upended lives, refugee response requires a combination of large, global organizations and local, grassroots efforts to ensure our fellow humans find a safe home and the ability to sustain themselves.
That’s where Asmara’s World comes in. No one understands the process of forced migration better than people who have been through it, and Asmara’s World is made up primarily of refugees or people who have a migration background themselves. Members originally came from Eritrea, Senegal, Gambia, Cap Verde, Poland, Nigeria, Afghanistan, Lebanon, and Iran, and they advise and support refugees through evacuations, deportation prevention, language learning and more.
“Asmara’s World serves as a bridge builder between cultures and supports both institutions and individuals in developing understanding for the different concerns and wishes,” Asmara tells Upworthy. She says the organization explicitly pursues an “empowerment approach” in advising and supporting refugees in social matters. Refugees are smart and resourceful and eager to learn—they just need the opportunities to put their skills to use.
In addition to the primary concern of getting people housed and fed, one of the main goals of Asmara’s World is to make sure refugees are able to receive the education they need to be successful in their new home, such as learning the German language.
“They need to reach B2 language level as soon as possible, in order to apply to universities,” says Asmara. “They need to fulfill this first.” (B2 is an advanced level of fluency necessary for higher education.)
Then there’s the tragic reality of what caused them to flee in the first place.
“Many are psychologically exhausted, traumatized,” says Asmara. “Asmara's World offers them a safe space and the opportunity to be empowered and to create concrete solutions.” From professional help to legal advice, Asmara’s World accompanies refugees through the bureaucratic process, but also serves as an understanding, empathetic source of counseling and support—which, sadly, is a continuing need even after they are safe from war.
“Many BIPOC [Black, Indigenous and People of Color] are wandering around Europe without protection and do not know where to go, as they are asked everywhere to return to their countries of origin, although they have not lived there for several years and have become adults in Ukraine,” says Asmara. Even if they wanted to return to their countries of origin, it wouldn’t be possible for most. “The families have gone into debt to pay for their studies in Ukraine and are broke.”
And, of course, every step of the refugee’s journey requires money. Asmara’s World uses Facebook and Instagram to raise awareness and call for donations and WhatApp to organize activities and share information, but social media also serves as a valuable source of networking with other non-profits. As word spread of the organization’s efforts early in the war, Asmara’s World began receiving donations through aid and human rights organization Medico International, which helped fund rescue buses and basic humanitarian aid.
The refugee crisis won’t be solved overnight, but with continued support, groups like Asmara’s World can help people who are forced to flee violence find a peaceful home where they not only survive, but also thrive.