By Quentin Wodon, Chair of the Rotary Action Group for Refugees, Forced Displacement, and Migration
According to the latest statistics from UNHCR, an estimated 84 million people have been forcibly displaced globally as of mid-2021. Within this group, 26.6 million are refugees and 4.4 million are seeking asylum. As the number of displaced individuals grows globally, including with the current crisis in Ukraine, civil society organizations including Rotary clubs and districts are stepping up to help in resettlement efforts.
Clubs support refugee resettlement efforts worldwide
Rotarians and Rotaractors have supported refugee resettlement in different ways across the world. In the United States, according to preliminary results from a survey of U.S.-based club and district leaders conducted by Rotary International in January, almost one in five (17.4% of 890 responses) indicated their club or district was already engaged in supporting Afghan refugee resettlement efforts.
The five most common activities Rotary members have undertaken in the U.S. include the provision of basic household items and furnishings; the provision of appropriate clothing to the climate/season; the provision of adequate food supplies; assistance with enrollment in English language training; and assistance with employment services, health services, and public benefits. Through their work, many clubs are partnering with leading refugee resettlement agencies to welcome and offer long-term support to newcomers settling in their communities. For clubs not yet engaged, there is interest in supporting the resettlement efforts. The results of the survey are encouraging in terms of Rotarian contributions and the potential to engage even more clubs and districts in sharing their time to support refugees.
Around the world, many more clubs and members are helping welcome evacuees in their home communities. For example:
- Rotary members in Brazil and Colombia partnered with local organizations to provide meals, medical supplies, and professional development opportunities to refugees from Venezuela.
- In Canada, the Rotary Club of Amherst worked with local religious institutions to sponsor and welcome families from Syria.
- In Uganda, the Rotaract Club of Nakivale, which is based inside a refugee settlement, helps new arrivals by providing supplies, organizing activities, and mentoring other young people.
- Across Europe, clubs and districts are providing warm clothing, food and infant formula, and essential supplies for women, children and elderly refugees arriving from Ukraine. Many are also opening their homes to provide a safe and warm place for refugees leaving Ukraine.
Higher education for youth: another opportunity to help
There are many opportunities to help families who have relocated to your community, including ensuring that young refugees have access to education opportunities. One way to support newcomers is through scholarships provided either by Rotary clubs or by colleges and universities to qualified young women and men who have sufficient mastery of the local language or can acquire it.
But for this to work, at least two conditions are needed. First, college and university scholarships need to be made available for refugees. Ideally, the offer should be a full scholarship. Colleges and universities would need to assess the ability of potential scholarship recipients to succeed in their course of study, which would require minimum credentials to be met and verified. Clubs and districts could provide individualized support to scholars during their studies. Many universities have programs that provide an alternative route into higher education for groups that wouldn’t otherwise meet stringent entry requirements, and these programs should be used where offered.
In addition, the availability of scholarships for refugees would need to be publicized so that qualified individuals could apply. It is likely clubs can help aspiring scholars complete their application. Clubs could help with outreach to newcomers through various channels, including by contacting national resettlement agencies and their institutional partners.
Rotarians and Rotaractors can play a role in suggesting to universities the opportunity to provide scholarships to refugees, while ensuring that refugees and the agencies that are working with them are aware of these scholarships. As one example, following a discussion in a meeting of our Action Group’s board, Adémar Bechtold, a Professor of Economics at Notre Dame University of Maryland in the United States, contacted the University’s President to inquire about offering one or two scholarships to Afghan refugees. Founded in 1895, Notre Dame University of Maryland was the first Catholic college for women in the United States to award the baccalaureate degree in the U.S.—and they have been leading the way in women’s education ever since. Dr. Yam and her administration generously committed to provide two full tuition scholarships for young Afghan women. The local Rotary community is now helping make this known so that qualified Afghan refugees can apply. If you would like to know more about this particular opportunity, please contact me through the Rotary Action Group website at https://www.ragforrefugees.org/. Additional information about Notre Dame of Maryland University is available at www.ndm.edu.
There is much that Rotarians and Rotaractors can do to contribute to refugee resettlement effort. If you are already engaged, let us know what you are doing. If you are not yet engaged but would like to be, we are in the process of preparing guidance with practical Rotary examples to help clubs and districts evaluate how they are best positioned to engage.
Read more about the Rotary Action Group for Refugees, Forced Displacement, and Migration on their website, http://www.ragforrefugees.org. If you are interested in implementing projects, in contributing and sharing knowledge, or in raising awareness on the plight of refugees, internally displaced persons, and other migrants, and the solutions that improve their lives, please get in touch.
Editor’s note: In response to the deepening humanitarian crisis in Ukraine, The Rotary Foundation has created an official channel for Rotary members around the world to contribute funds to support the relief efforts underway by Rotary districts and has designated its Disaster Response Fund as the main avenue for contributions. Read more.