Empowering Communities: REI’s Approach to Refugee Support

As global conflicts increase, more people are being forced to leave their homes. According to the United Nations Refugee Agency, the number of people forcibly displaced from their homes exceeds 110 million. And these people are in need of support systems that can enable  them to lead more fulfilling lives. Independent non-profit organization Refugee Empowerment International (REI) is dedicated to supporting those who have been forcibly  displaced from their homes. 

REI, which is based in Japan and Australia, raises funds for the  refugees and internally displaced people (IDPs) who have lost so much. To learn more about the work the organization is doing, we spoke with REI Executive Director Jane Best about what makes REI stand out and the projects they support in Myanmar and Thailand. 

And for those interested in supporting REI while enjoying a spectacular event, book a seat or table  for the Hands Around the World Gala on March 1, 2024, at the Kazanami Ballroom on the second floor of Conrad Tokyo. This is their annual flagship event: an evening of food, drinks, entertainment, and the opportunity to make a meaningful impact on empowering and rebuilding the lives of  refugees and IDPs.

How is Refugee Empowerment International (REI) different from other NPOs or refugee organizations?

Jane Best OBE Executive Director at Refugee Empowerment International (REI)

REI support is non-interventional—this gives the community the power to shape their future. The community knows what is needed and what resources they have. REI provides the opportunity for the refugee communities to build the future themselves. We believe that true change comes from within the communities and our mission is to allow them to expand on the work already being done.

The funding is not temporary but an investment for the future.

We are not a large organization, with three staff members, and we are not looking to grow too much as currently we are able to connect with the beneficiaries and see clearly the impact of our funding.

Please tell us about your most recent trip to the REI projects on the Thai–Myanmar border.

We visited the three projects that REI supports on the border and inside Myanmar. These are projects that we have been supporting for several years and we have seen them grow from strength to strength. There is continued displacement in Myanmar and the visit reinforced our mission to keep focused on protracted crises and not be diverted to new emerging crises.

While I saw continued commitment and determination to make the best of their situation, I was aware of more despair compared to four years ago and more people talking about resettlement although they do not want to. The need for the projects will continue, and the leaders will continue to devote their energies to the activities. I was particularly pleased to visit with my colleague, REI General Manager Yasuko Elison, who brought a fresh view of the work we support.

You recently conducted an REI Lunch & Learn event for a major global corporate in Tokyo. What is Lunch & Learn about and how can companies sign up for one?

Lunch and Learn is a session that is tailored to suit the interests of the company and their employees. It is an hour-long session during which we explain about the refugee issue, the REI mission, the impact REI funding has on communities, and how people can support our work. 

There are many misunderstandings about refugees and related issues; can you put the record straight on anything you think needs clarifying? 

Most importantly, refugees are not economic migrants. They have not chosen to leave their homes but been forced to due to danger and persecution. The majority of refugees do not want to seek asylum in third countries but to stay near home, within their culture, and eventually return home. Refugees do not want to live off hand-outs but to be independent and live a normal life.

Do you have any final message for GoConnect readers? 

We constantly see and hear bad news in the media. Good news stories don’t sell but we want people to know we have plenty of good news.

Visit https://rei-npo.org/en/ for more information. 

Edited by Brady Doran

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