By Quentin Wodon, Chair of Rotary Action Group for Refugees, Forced Displacement, and Migration
We are living through a refugee crisis which is only likely to get worse in the long run. The latest global report by UNHCR, the United Nations agency for refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs), estimates that in 2019, 79.5 million people were forcibly displaced. This is a dramatic increase in forced displacement versus the estimate of 41.1 million people displaced in 2010. Cumulatively, just over the last decade, 100 million people have been newly displaced. Refugees, IDPs, and ‘other persons of concerns’ (to use the terminology of UNHCR) are among the most vulnerable people in the world. Unfortunately, their numbers are expected to increase further in part due to climate change. Right now, because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the plight of refugees and IDPs is even more distressing.
Eight months ago, my club helped organize an event on the refugee crisis in Central and Latin America with the Organization of American States (OAS). Thanks to the OAS, we had high level speakers, including two Foreign Ministers. John Hewko, the General Secretary of Rotary International, also sent a video message (this was during the RI Convention so he was not available). In addition to guest speakers, we put together a small publication on the crisis and what Rotarians were doing to help refugees not only in Latin America, but all over the world. Organizing the publication was made much easier by the fact that at the end of 2019, for the Rotary Day at the United Nations, several Rotarians and a Rotary Peace Fellow had been recognized for their work.
It seemed that a lot of great projects were already happening, with an appetite for more. But there was no simple way to gather that information and help clubs and districts implement projects in this area. None of the existing 25 Rotary Action Groups (RAGs) focused on refugees and IDPs. Therefore, the idea to create a RAG for Refugees, Forced Displacement, and Migration was born. There was a great response from Rotarians, Rotaractors, and non-Rotarians all over the world to launch an action group and we submitted our proposal for the new RAG in September 2020. It was approved by the Board of Directors of Rotary International in November. Now comes the hard work of getting a few things done. You can help!
As any RAG, we will focus on helping clubs and districts prepare, implement, and evaluate projects. If you have an idea in mind and would like some advice, please contact us. Even if you do not want to join the group, we are looking for examples of your work in this area to begin the exchange of project ideas.
We are in the process of building our website where we hope to provide resources for Rotarians, Rotaractors, as well as non-Rotarians. We will have a blog, monthly events, webpages devoted to providing guidance by topics, and other pages with broader resources. We also plan to have a series of publications – both short notes and longer reports. Our primary raison d’être will be to guide clubs and districts in their projects. But we also want to contribute knowledge. If you have expertise on what to do in any one of the seven areas of focus of the Rotary Foundation that could be relevant for refugees, IDPs, and migrants, please get in touch with us and we can discuss how you could help.
Apart from helping guide projects and building and sharing knowledge, we also hope to be active in raising awareness. Like other citizens and nonprofits, Rotarians, Rotaractors, and their clubs can play a role in making the issues faced by for refugees, IDPs, and migrants more visible. In many contexts, the willingness of individuals and communities to welcome new migrants is challenged by commonly held perceptions that an influx of migrants may have negative effects. In reality, the academic literature suggests that migrants often have positive effects in their new communities. Even when there are risks of negative effects, these can be managed. Rotarians and Rotaractors can educate themselves and others on these issues through simple means such as sharing a meal or a conversation with refugees, organizing a movie night to watch a great documentary, or providing voice to refugees by enabling them to speak about their experiences at their clubs and other venues. By learning from the refugees who live in our midst, we can help change minds and hearts, including our own.
If you are interested in implementing projects, in contributing and sharing knowledge, or in raising awareness on the plight of refugees, IDPs, and other migrants, and the solutions that improve their lives, please get in touch. We are excited to hear from you.
Quentin Wodon is a Lead Economist at the World Bank, and currently serves as President of the Rotary Club of Washington Global and Chair of the Rotary Action Group for Refugees, Forced Displacement, and Migration. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.