If you’d like to help Ukrainian refugees, I have two options

If anyone expresses support for low-skill migration into the U.S., one of my standard tropes is to offer to pay for a year of food for any migrants that the gracious welcomer wants to shelter in his/her/zir/their own home. After 20 years of making these offers, I have not had to spend one penny. Here’s the typical exchange:

  • friend posts hatred regarding the Texas governor busing migrants to neighborhoods in D.C. where every lawn has a “migrants welcome” sign (and the Florida governor piling on with “I hope these welfare-dependent migrants don’t show up in Orlando wanting taxpayer-funded gender ID education at Disney World)
  • I respond with “If you’d like to house any asylum-seekers or migrants in your own home I will be happy to pay for a year of Costco food for them. Just let me know how many you’re planning on welcoming!”
  • friend responds to the above with “not the point”

It seems that my bluff has been called, however, by an Irish helicopter enthusiast friend. He and his wife have welcomed a Ukrainian and her 15-year-old son into their suburban Dublin house (to occupy a couple of bedrooms that have been vacated by adult children). From WhatsApp: “They arrived last night with a cabin size bag and 2 shoulder bags.” Although he didn’t ask for any help, I decided to send 500 euro for a gift card at the local shopping mall (impossible to buy online with a U.S. credit card, so I did a bank transfer with his IBAN number and he will buy it; I trust him not to spend the money on essential-in-Maskachusetts-and-California marijuana because weed is illegal in Ireland). The mom will have a “PPS number” by next week and, therefore, will be allowed to work in Ireland.

One of our loyal readers (I won’t share his name until I get his permission) is married to a Ukrainian and is sheltering up to 7 of his wife’s relatives in his suburban Paris home. They’ve gotten health coverage from the French government, but, as in the U.S., housing is a human right to which a 10-year waiting list is attached. We could get together and try to cover some of his hypermarché bills. I met this reader in person when I was in Paris with my mom so I can vouch for him. And I’ve seen the pictures of the crowded kitchen table.

Why send money direct to individuals in this manner? Donating to a non-profit org has the advantage that it might be tax-deductible, but Elvis Presley wouldn’t deduct any of his donations because he said that it “took away from the spirit of the gift.” Also, I don’t want to help a non-profit executive boost his/her/zir/their salary from $1 million per year to $2 million per year, even if that only keeps pace with housing inflation.

Finally, let me add that the Ukrainian friend whom I talk to most regularly is ambivalent about aid to refugees. He prefers to assist those who’ve chosen to stay in Ukraine (his own father has refused to bug out despite a quiet suburban American existence being within relatively easy reach (dad is over 60 and therefore free to leave Ukraine at any time)).

On the third hand, I feel sympathy for anyone who has to live under Irish weather conditions…

(above: part of Newgrange, where no refugees will be housed, from a May/June 2019 trip in which it rained for an entire week)

Comment here and/or email me (philg@mit.edu) if you want to be connected.

17 thoughts on “If you’d like to help Ukrainian refugees, I have two options

  1. Do you know anyone in Poland? They have absorbed north of 2 million refugees and although I don’t have a lot of money I would like to help them in some way. You know how to contact me, and thank you for your efforts.

  2. There is a big difference of migrants coming from a war zone vs economic migrants.

    Refugees (I would not call them “migrants”) from Ukraine, Syria, Yemen, Iraq, to name some, genuinely need help because their country is being invaded. Those refugees *will* go back to their home country once things settle down. However, migrants from poor countries, due to their corrupt government, will *not* go back to their home country. So I be happy to help refugees (which I have done for those from Syria [1]).

    [1] As readers of this blog may know, I’m originally from Syria who immigrated with my family, legally, to the USA in 1981.

    • I think you are way above average, which is why immigration cases should be decided individually. For example, Syrians in Germany do not do well on average. The following citation is from a woke site with participation from government radio (in other words, pro-migrants, see https://www.infomigrants.net/en/about):


      After a decade of conflict in Syria it seems unlikely that the refugees who fled abroad will be able to return home soon. In Germany, where a large proportion of Syrian refugees have applied for protection, many have found it hard to make a living. Official unemployment figures show that nearly two-thirds (65%) of Syrians who are able to work actually rely either entirely or partially on receiving public benefits.

      Then there is the general question of taking in males who have been in combat. It is well known that it takes time to revert to civilian life. There have been many cases of rape, stabbings in trains and terror attacks following the huge immigration in 2015 in Germany.

      The refugees take up housing in the low end government sponsored sector. Since rental demand is inelastic, any group of people filling up the empty 4% of flats in a healthy rental market will lead to price explosions. Quality of life has gone down drastically for Germans since 2015. In many cases you have the same standard of living no matter whether you work a low-middle class job or get social security. If you are lucky with the location of the government housing you have a better life and an apartment that would cost EUR 2,000 a month on the free market.

      In large cities, it is not uncommon for 1,000 people to apply for a single affordable apartment.

      I very much doubt that the Syrians in Germany will go back in large numbers. An unemployed doctor who is on social security might go back, but not people in general. I also doubt that most Ukrainians will go back — many tried to come for decades before the war started.

      Again, this is about averages, this is why philg’s approach to donate directly to specific cases without subsidizing sinecure jobs in “public” charities makes a lot of sense.

    • @Anonymous, very true. In fact, what I learned is this: immigrant who take it upon themselves to immigrate and go through the immigration process are far more successful and far more willing to integrate and change their way of life. They understand and accept that “immigrating” means more then moving from point A to point B.

    • George A: Can this be true in a comprehensive welfare state such as the U.S.? Why wouldn’t we infer that the person who goes through an elaborate legal immigration process is then set up to go through an elaborate paperwork process to get into public housing, on Medicaid, on SNAP/EBT, on Obamaphone, and on the new-with-COVID free home broadband program?

    • philg: This is an astute observation. I once helped a friend from abroad to get Hartz IV for two months before college started. I had no clue and relied on quick reading of the monumental amount of forms.

      While we were waiting, we sat across a Polish woman with her friend, both of whom were clearly old enough to have been adults under communism. She had an impeccable folder, 10 cm thick, hundreds of pages, beautifully organized. She knew every application detail and explained it perfectly. I remember the awe and respect in her voice while talking about forms.

      Back then I attributed this effortless mastery of bureaucracy to the hard school of communism, but many people these days have the required skills.

    • @Philg, from my experience, this is true. I am no #Scientist, but I can tell you from my experience of what I have seen.

      Folks that I know either from my church or through friends, those who immigrated to the US through the legal process, without cutting corners, very much every single has a sacksful life at or over middle class level. Those who cut corners, they are still renters and getting government assistance. This is true with generations too. I also have a side gig (own and manage my own rental). Tenants who came here legally have solid job, better organized and committed. They want to move out of rental and buy their own home even a small one, and many do. Furthermore, those who immigrate legally, they are far more eager to learn English, apply to become US Citizen as soon as they can. It is an achievement they pride to achieve.

      Here is my theory as to why this is so. For new drivers, if RMV were to eliminate written exam and permit requirement [1] and simply hand you a license after passing road test, thus making it super easy to have license, would you take the rules and laws of the road seriously? What about if MIT or Harvard eliminates the application process and simply accepts freshmen who can pay tuition?

      When you make something supper easy to get, the sense of achievement and the need to work hard at achieving it goes off the window and thus whatever is it that you got, with ease, you won’t take it seriously or build onto it.

      [1] https://driving-tests.org/massachusetts/massachusetts-dmv-practice-test/

  3. Since all the refugees are women, there’s actually an outpouring of male hosts, as long as the refugee is under 30 & in good health.

  4. Housing in France is nowhere near as ridiculous as in the US or UK. I idly looked at a realtor’s listings in Marly-Le-Roi, a very nice suburb of Paris, and 3BRs seem to be going for around €200K or so.

    I expect far more will go to Canada than the US. In some provinces Ukrainian is spoken by more people than French.

  5. don’t understand why is the USA so obsessed with Russia? (you already beat them once – right?)
    if they hadn’t pushed Putin with nato expansionism maybe all this conflict would not have happened in the first place.

    • I agree that probably the conflict could have been avoided. Some forces in the U.S. apparently want to repeat the defeat of the Soviet Union in Afghanistan, which arguably was a major contributing factor to its collapse in 1988-1991; perhaps that has always been the plan since 2014 and explains the policy of escalation and provocation:


    • Europe seems to be even more obsessed with Russia than USA. Either way, this looks like Grand Chessboard geopolitics. Russia wants to possess Ukraine, or at least Crimea and a land bridge while Ukraine and the Western allies would prefer they do not. In family court terms, this is irreconcilable differences.

  6. Altruism is great. Coordinated, effective altruism is better.





    … So I’ve just poured 2000 EUR into the most effective NGOs handling the twin problems of housing refugees (tax deductible) and sending arms to Ukraine (not tax deductible).

  7. > if they hadn’t pushed Putin with nato expansionism maybe all this conflict would not have happened in the first place

    Who exactly pushed Nato expansionism ? If it’s the individual Eastern Euro countries, I for one cannot be more happy they’ve succeeded in joining Nato and EU as desired, as this has brought unprecedented prosperity and stability to the region.

    Romania has a higher GDP per capita than Russia since 2020 – before the latest Russian crisis brought on by sanctions! The sanctions must have only increased that relative standing. This is a historic first.

    This clearly shows in my opinion the threat of the EU and NATO to Russia – in 15 years or so, with Ukraine having joined and having become as prosperous as Russia, ordinary Russians would have had quite a double take to do: “The Ukrainians, as rich as us ? Really ?” which would be a huge menace to the oligarch regime.

    > Elvis Presley wouldn’t deduct any of his donations because he said that it “took away from the spirit of the gift.”
    What a King

  8. Donated to those who help evacuate vulnerable and stay those who wish to stay and fight to protect their lives.

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