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Reaching out to refugees

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The migration of millions of people has created tension as refugees look for shelter and a future. Rotarians explore their role in improving lives.

By and

More than a million refugees have crossed into Germany within the past few years. Integrating them into society is a challenge for Germany and for many other European countries. The 2019 Rotary International Convention in Hamburg is an ideal opportunity for Rotary to do one of the things it does best — bring together leaders who can use their expertise to exchange ideas and plan action to improve people’s lives.

In 2014, at the height of the refugee crisis in Germany, Berlin Rotarian Pia Skarabis-Querfeld, who is a doctor, visited a temporary refugee shelter at a gym to donate clothing for Christmas. When she saw the living conditions of the refugees and realized that they didn’t have even basic medical care, she and her husband, a pediatrician and Rotarian, decided to spend the holidays providing medical treatment. Skarabis-Querfeld, who is speaking at the convention today, 3 June, later founded Medizin Hilft, which treats refugees and anyone else who cannot access medical care. More than 120 people volunteer with the project. 

  • 60000.00

    The number of people, in Berlin alone, who don’t have health insurance. This includes refugees, undocumented migrants, people who are homeless, and the working poor.

  1. Since 2017, Essener Begegnungen has brought together some 200 people, including many Rotarians, who have formed close friendships with their refugee counterparts.

  2. A survey released by ARD-Deutschlandtrend in 2018 found that 51 percent of Germans considered loneliness a “big problem” and 17 percent felt it was a “very big problem.”

Another effort, Essener Begegnungen (“Essen Encounters”), helps refugees combat loneliness and adjust to German society. Two years ago, two Rotarians — Björn Schüngel, a public relations expert, and Björn Enno Hermans, director of the Essen branch of the nongovernmental organization Caritas — came up with the innovative approach of pairing refugees with local citizens based on common interests, professional background, age, or family situation. Activities can include a picnic in a park, a visit to a museum, or simply watching a football match together. A “Meeting Cafe” that opened in October welcomes refugees and other community members and invites them to take part in spontaneous encounters over coffee and cake.

During a convention breakout session today, participants will focus on how Rotary and Rotaract can offer ways for global citizens to engage with refugees and take action in their communities. More than half of the world’s refugees are under age 30. Young refugees know the challenges they are facing better than anyone else, and they have the capacity to produce an abundance of creative solutions.

 Related events:

  • Dr. Pia Skarabis-Querfeld will be speaking about her work with Medizin Hilft during the general session on Monday, 3 June, 10:00-12:00, Hall B6. Read more about her work.
  • The breakout session A New Perspective on Rotaract: Engaging Refugee Youth will take place on Monday, 3 June, 15:30-16:30, Hall A1, Room A104.
  • The breakout session Helping Traumatized Refugees in Germany will explore how refugees' lives and prospects can be improved on Wednesday, 5 June, 14:30-16:00, Hall A1, Room A104
  • The breakout session Rotary’s Role in Migration and Integration will discuss what Rotarians can do to create positive outcomes on Wednesday, 5 June, 13:00-14:30, Hall A1, Room A102.