A recent press release by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) revealed there are over 100 million people displaced as a result of violence, war, persecution and human rights violations.
The Russian invasion of Ukraine and other emergencies across Africa, Afghanistan and beyond, has significantly added to this rising trend of human displacement. UNHCR reports that inflation, food scarcity and the climate crisis are some of the issues adding to people’s hardship and making it more difficult to provide the funding and resources necessary to help.
However, UNHCR believes that a new concerted push toward peace making can help reverse this trend. With “promoting peace” as one of seven areas of focus, Rotarians worldwide are in a key position to provide resources and solutions to address this issue.
From providing essential goods and services to Ukrainians affected or displaced by recent conflict, to supporting the Rotary Peace Fellowship programme, there are many opportunities for Rotarians in Yorkshire and Lincolnshire to get involved in responding to the refugee crisis and promoting peace.
Investing in peace and development education
In Bradford, there is a select group of people creating the foundations of peaceful solutions to human displacement and other complex modern-day issues. At the Bill Huntley Memorial Peace Seminar held in October, Rotary Peace Fellows shared their learning and lived experiences on topics ranging from: working with migrants in Europe; supporting security sector reform in Sierra Leone; using storytelling in refugee camps in Uganda; researching the militarisation of Kashmir; and examining climate change resilience from Guatemala to the Hague.
Each year, Rotary awards up to 130 fully funded Peace Fellowships (50 for master’s degrees and 80 for certificate studies) for dedicated leaders and professionals from around the world to study at one of seven peace centres. The Rotary Peace Centre at the University of Bradford is the most sought-after programme–receiving between 250 and 300 applications for ten fully-funded places. The programme sits within the Division of Peace Studies and International Development at the University of Bradford, the world’s largest university centre for research and courses on peace studies, conflict resolution and development.
Since 2002, Rotary Peace Centres around the world have trained more than 1,500 people, with 93% of alumni saying they are in jobs connected to peace and development in more than 115 countries. Many Rotary Peace Fellows now serve as leaders in NGOs, and work in other key industries such as education, military, law, media and for international organisations like the World Bank and United Nations.
Though the Peace Fellows programme is a Rotary International initiative, it relies on Rotarians within the district to help with hosting and provide other types of pastoral support throughout the year. Keith Davison, Past District Governor for Rotary International District 1040 and current Rotary International Peace Fellows Host Area Coordinator, works with a small team of Rotarians and family to provide essential support for applicants before and during their time at the University of Bradford.
According to Keith, the Rotary Peace Centre at Bradford receives a steady interest from the wider Rotary community within Great Britain and Ireland, but he believes there could be more awareness and support from local Rotarians and clubs. This support can be in the form of attending the annual Bill Huntley Memorial Peace Seminar, or volunteering to be a host that fellows can call on in times and situations of need. The importance of this support was particularly felt during the pandemic when arriving fellows faced quarantines and relied on Rotarians to arrange and deliver meals.
Keith explains that most Peace Fellows are mature students, with many bringing partners and children with them. Many arrive as newlyweds and even have children before the programme finishes. Having the support from local Rotarians to not only raise awareness about Rotary Peace Fellowships, but also support each individual fellow and their families is crucial to the longevity of the programme.
“It’s an amazing job. You meet some amazing people and learn such a lot,” says Keith. The current Class of Rotary Peace Fellows at the University of Bradford are now settling into their routines in Bradford. This new class brings new perspectives and ideas on development peace and will take their own paths to find solutions that work for their communities. With Rotarian support, they will hopefully do just that.
Helping Ukrainians displaced by war
When the Russian invasion of Ukraine began in early 2022, Rotarians across Yorkshire and North Lincolnshire quickly assembled to see what they could do to help. Within days, they set up the District 1040 Ukraine Appeal to support people at the frontline of the conflict and those who were fleeing their homes for safety.
District 1040 has had a long association with Ukraine, which started around the year 2000 after some members visited a hospital and orphanage in Uzhgorod in western Ukraine. They set up the District 1040 Ukraine Convoy–an initiative to collect medical equipment and other useful materials to help with treatments and refurbishments in the hospital and orphanage. Using connections across districts, Rotarians collected fully serviced second-hand medical goods, such as body scanners and theatre equipment, and transported them to the country.
“People would travel up to 500 kilometres just to have the use of the body scanner. So, it was a very important piece of equipment in that time,” says Stephen Ellis, Past District Governor for District 1040 and current Foundation Lead.
The Ukraine Convoy initiative ended in 2012 due to rising costs and difficulties moving goods across the Ukrainian border. Several Rotarians from the Ukraine Convoy group remained in contact with their Ukrainian counterparts, continuing to support children and literacy initiatives.
When the latest conflict began in Ukraine in early 2022, Rotarians in the district sprang to action. “Like we do with all disasters, the district came to life,” says Stephen. “It was a small select group of a couple of Rotarians who had worked on the Convoy, along with the International Lead Carol Jordan, and had the knowledge of Ukraine and also the contacts over there. We decided that we would set up this small working party. We then decided to launch the District 1040 Ukraine Appeal.”
The appeal has now raised just over £125,000. According to Stephen, it is highly likely that an additional £125,000 for Ukrainian initiatives have been raised by clubs but have gone through other channels using Rotary's contacts. The money raised will help with three different phases of support: helping with immediate needs in Ukraine, helping refugees in the UK and helping refugees return home.
As part of phase one’s goal to support immediate needs, £50,000 from the official District 1040 Ukraine Appeal went to Košice Rotary Club in Slovakia to fund reception centres for Ukrainian refugees fleeing the conflict. The money helped the club procure and provide food, clothing, medicines and transportation for those arriving at the centres. Another £50,000 went toward first responder packs used on the Ukrainian front line to help with blast impacts. Items include devices which help open airways and small digital tools to help monitor vitals. Additionally, £2,500 was sent to Rotarian contacts to help a Bulgarian orphanage situated on the border that has taken in children displaced by the conflict.
With the arrival of Ukrainian refugees in the UK, the district set up a £20,000 fund for disaster response grants. This money is being used by clubs to support recently arrived refugees in need of clothing, food, phones, educational materials and other everyday essentials for life in the UK. The grants, however, have not been needed as much as initially thought.
“What we have found is the Ukrainian people, the women especially, have been very resourceful. A lot of them have gone out and found jobs and have integrated. So, we're not having to spend that money quite as fast now, because in a lot of cases, they are saying, ‘No, you know, I’ve got a job now and I can support myself. Use the money elsewhere.’”
Though it hasn’t started yet, the district is preparing for phase three, supporting refugees returning to Ukraine. The district has identified that about 95% of Ukrainian people in the UK will go back to their homes when they can. Many people will require support to address the immediate needs of settling back into their homes.
With recent attacks on key infrastructure in the country, there is another wave of support required to address immediate needs for those still in the country. Rotary and other organisations are sending clothing, food and materials for cooking and shelter. Due to rising fuel and transportation costs, £7,000 went to support PhysioNet in sending more necessary equipment into Ukraine.
“So really, it's all ongoing. It’s been a huge job and we're very proud of the way that the clubs have supported [the appeal] especially in the face of the fact that we're facing an economic crisis in the UK, and probably over most of Europe at the moment,” reflects Stephen. “People are generous and still giving towards Ukraine when we've got an awful lot to do at home. So, we've got to think about balancing the books as we go forward.”
Rebecca A Mendoza is a freelance writer and member of York Rotary. You can learn more about her work at www.rebeccaamendoza.com