The Syrian Refugee Crisis Won't be Solved by a Kickstarter 

By Kate Knibbs on at

The White House has launched a crowdfunding campaign for refugees fleeing Syria, partnering with Kickstarter, Twitter, Airbnb, Starbucks, and grocery service Instacart to raise money. This crowdfunding campaign is a sad barometer for how broken the government’s response system for humanitarian aid is.

So far the Kickstarter has raised over $1 million for the UN Refugee Agency to use helping Syrians. According to its goals, that’s equal to immediate necessities and a place to sleep for 5,000 people in need. Over 4,000,000 people are registered refugees.

The White House is framing this campaign like individuals with open wallets will be a substantial help to the refugees. This is a tactic to distract from the meat of this crisis: these people need some place to go, not just temporary blankets courtesy of Kickstarter. And only governments can give them that place.

“We have a moral responsibility to do what we can for families forced from their homes,” President Obama said about the crowdfunding campaign, in an effort to get people to donate some extra bucks to the crisis.

As of September 2015, the US had only accepted 1,500 Syrian refugees.

The US government has pledged $4.5 billion in humanitarian assistance towards this crisis, and upped the number of refugees it accepts worldwide to 100,000 a year by 2017. Those numbers might sound good, but they’re more tepid than impressive: the US expects to receive just 10,000 Syrian refugees in the next fiscal year.

Let me be clear: People fleeing Syria need help, and I don’t think that this Kickstarter or other fundraising efforts are worthless. This is a crisis we are morally obliged to see. But pretending like digital fundraising is an efficient or appropriate governmental response is insulting to the refugees.

Shifting the “moral responsibility” from the US government to regular people is a reprobate PR gambit that diverts attention from the way the crisis is being mishandled through official channels. Syrian refugees will not be saved by a Kickstarter. [New York Times]

Photo: AP/Muhammed Muheisen