The Unitarian Universalist Service Committee advances human rights through grassroots collaborations.
Visiting Eastern Europe’s Grassroots Frontline Responders: What Refugee Support Looks Like (Part 3)
By Myra on October 6, 2023
Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022 has taken the lives of and displaced thousands. As the war between the two nations continues, UUSC is committed to providing first-response aid to survivors and addressing the medium- and long-term ramifications of this conflict. UUSC staff traveled to Poland—where many have fled Ukraine in the wake of the invasion—for an informative update on the situation on the ground involving its partners and to learn what issues are still impacting the people of Ukraine and what we can be doing to advance justice and equity in the region in the long term. Read part one here and part two here.
This summer, I traveled to Europe to meet our Eastern European partners. Director of Partner Support and Grantmaking Michael Kourabas, UUSC President Reverend Mary Katherine Morn, and I were excited to meet those doing such important work. We learned how UUSC funding helped their organizations and areas where they need our continued support.
The situation is still dire for so many refugees who fled Russian aggression. They have to process massive trauma. Evacuees also have the daunting task of establishing themselves in a foreign country. As a refugee myself, I understand how overwhelming these challenges can be. I am proud that UUSC is committed to helping these communities survive and thrive by supporting our amazing partners on the ground.
I want to discuss what supporting refugees looks like. Our partners gave important feedback that we can use to be even better supporters. Following are a few areas that are key to helping those enduring this tragedy.
Ensuring All Refugees and Marginalized People Are Treated Equally
Many refugees are flanked by the atrocities of war on one side and long-standing systemic oppression on the other. Poland is a nearby nation that has absorbed a significant number of refugees. The Polish general elections scheduled for November 15 have facilitated national discussions around immigration; many conservatives have shifted public opinion from one of general support to one of bigotry and a misinformed view of the impact of more refugees entering into the country. This is in addition to a lack of reproductive care for women and girls, racism, and LGBTQ+ discrimination in the country.
UUSC funding equips partners like Towards Dialogue, an organization that advocates for better treatment and full integration of Roma people in Polish society, to do this work. Discrimination against Roma people is widespread throughout Europe. UUSC support allows the organization to aid refugees while working against the rampant prejudice and stereotypes against Roma communities.
Alliance for Black Justice in Poland (ABJP) launched in 2022 and quickly became an institution African, Black, and Afro-descendant people trusted. As refugees fled Russian violence, ABJP expanded its services to meet the need. Unfortunately, the looming national election will mean anti-immigrant stances rooted in racism will increase. UUSC support allows ABJP to foster community among Black people in Poland while ensuring they receive dignity and respect.
Continued Financial Support
Funding is necessary for our partners to continue the work. Many funders have stringent requirements that make responding to shifting circumstances difficult. Other large donors are reducing their support or leaving the area altogether.
Several of our partners praised UUSC’s commitment to providing flexible funding allowing them to meet needs in a dynamic environment. Nastya, who works with our partner, Martynka, shared that the lack of flexible funding is a huge barrier to providing necessary services.
UUSC is the largest funder for Queer Svit, a Black-led queer organization that works to support LGBTQ+ refugees. Anna-Maria Tesfaye, one of the co-founders of Queer Svit, is currently working without a salary in addition to other part-time jobs. The funding they received from UUSC gave them the confidence that they could continue to make a positive impact.
Sustained Service Access
Refugees often have a complex set of needs. These needs are short and long-term. Some arise from fleeing a violent situation. Others come from establishing oneself in a new place, perhaps without a strong command of the language. And as we all know, everyday needs such as housing and medical care are always needed.
UUSC support allows our partners to meet the various needs evacuees encounter. Here are a few examples of what UUSC funding makes possible:
- Queer Svit ensures refugees continue to receive gender-affirming care. The organization is also working to help a Black trans woman receive a humanitarian visa.
- Located in Wroclaw, Poland, Our partner Nomada has hired staff who speak Polish, Ukrainian, Russian, and Spanish.
- In Krakow, Mudita works to aid people with disabilities and their caregivers.
This is what it looks like to support refugees. It looks like providing flexible, responsive funding to our partners so needs can be met in an ever-changing landscape. It looks like equipping partners to support myriad necessities people need to recover from trauma and live everyday life. All of this ultimately to ensure that refugees—all refugees—are treated fairly. UUSC remains committed to backing our partners. And we would not be able to support them without your continued support.
We are still receiving donations for the Emergency Response Fund, which provides aid for those impacted by human-made and natural disasters. UUSC is currently using this fund to support efforts in Haiti and Ukraine. Your donations continue to help us make a positive impact around the world.
Image Credit: UUSC