Getting started

Think global, act local

Human displacement is a problem without a passport. The causes are too big and complex for any one nation to address alone, and the consequences are too interconnected for any nation to consider themselves immune.

We can all do something to strengthen the organisations advancing a global response. Our local action helps shape the political climate of what is politically possible.

No matter what your field of practice,  you can help right now by:

Role of global organisations

Human displacement is a symptom of war, persecution, and conflict. It is a failure of the nation state to secure people’s human rights; a political problem.

The United Nations (UN) leads international political, development, humanitarian responses by creating the space for nations to come together, invest in goals, and coordinate action plans. Its members are nation states.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR)is the UN refugee agency with the mandate support member states to protect displaced people. It relies on donations from states, organisations and citizens.

The World Federation of United Nations Associations (WFUNA) represents the people’s movement supporting their nation’s responsible participation in the United Nations. In democracies an informed population can hold it’s polity to account through domestic elections. Its members are citizens.

Understand the international agenda

The New York Declaration for Refugees and Migrants (UN, 2016) represents the international political will and commitment to respond to people on the move.

The Global Compact for Refugees endorsed by the UN General Assembly in 2018 recognises that a sustainable solution to refugee situations cannot be achieved without international cooperation.

The Global Compact for Migration also endorsed in 2018 is a complementary international cooperation framework to address the common challenges and vulnerabilities shared by migrants and refugees.

Get involved locally

Explore at your ‘why’ and where you are at now:

  • what you can invest right now,
  • what are you are hoping to gain,
  • what type of contribution you want to make, and why?

Look nationally to find out:

  • what your nation has agreed to do,
  • what they officially say they do, and
  • what they actually do.

Listen locally to find out:

  • who are the displaced people closest to you,
  • who is already responding to displaced people, and
  • what do they need?

Decide where to start:

  • contribute as a citizen to learn,
  • contribute as a professional where there’s alignment, and
  • consider how to leverage your contribution.

Get connected locally

Find local colleagues that stimulate and nourish you. How? You are the expert of your local context. Some ideas are:

  • the WFOT has also published advice for students considering international practice placements, but remember you don’t need to leave the country to seek out experiences and experienced colleagues with intercultural practice,
  • write about a relevant United Nations Day in your local occupational therapy newsletter making networking interests and contact details clear,
  • plan to involve other local practitioners in the next Global Day of Service

If you are already responding to human displacement please join the ‘Who’s Working Where’ directory and map.

Could this page be more helpful? Feedback welcome!


Global Compact for Migration (2018). Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration; Intergovernmentally Negotiated and Agreed Outcome. Retrieved from:

United Nations (UN). (2016). The New York Declaration for Refugees and Migrants. General Assembly Resolution 71/1. Retrieved from:

United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). (2018). Global Compact on Refugees. Retrieved from:

World Federation of Occupational Therapists (WFOT). (2018). Student Guide for International Practice Placements. Retrieved from: