The war in Ukraine has created an unprecedented migration crisis the likes of which Europe has not witnessed since World War Two. Millions of refugees have fled Ukraine to seek safety and security with millions more urgently searching for ways to cross the border. According to statistics offered by the UN Refugee Agency UNHCR, over five million Ukrainians have entered neighboring nations since 24 February, the vast majority of which are children, their mothers and the elderly. Among this number are many children and adults with intellectual disabilities (ID). Representing one of the most marginalized populations in the world, especially in conflict zones, those with ID and their families face the most challenging circumstances: not only in fleeing violence, but also as part of the process of integrating into new host communities. Their needs are urgent, acute, and growing.
As part of its global commitment to inclusion through service, the Lions Clubs International Foundation (LCIF) is on the front lines of supporting the most vulnerable and at-risk refugee children and their families. Through a global partnership with Special Olympics titled “Mission: Inclusion”, LCIF is empowering national Special Olympics organizations, in coordination with local Lions Clubs, to meet the immediate needs of refugees fleeing violence. Under the Special Olympics Unified with Refugees program, Special Olympics and LCIF are providing critical service, supplies and safeguarding to thousands of refugees with and without intellectual disabilities throughout a range of countries, including Romania, Poland, Moldova, Slovakia and more.
Special Olympics Europe Eurasia recently conducted a targeted site visit to Slovakia and Poland to see the Unified with Refugees work in action, highlighting the key role that “Mission: Inclusion” is playing in the lives of individuals that need it most. In particular, the Sanatorium Center in the Polish-Ukrainian border town of Krosnobrod accommodates over 30 individuals with severe and profound intellectual disabilities together with some of their family members. “The needs of this population, especially in refugee settings, are incredibly urgent and immediate,” said Lion David Evangelista, President and Managing Director of Special Olympics Europe Eurasia. “It is through the generous, inclusive and pioneering effort of the Lions Clubs International Foundation that Special Olympics is able to meet some of these needs in real time, and as the needs grow, so too will our partnership’s resolve.”
Special Olympics and Lions Clubs International Foundation formed a global partnership in 2001 to bring the lasting benefits of inclusive development and inclusion through service to the global population of individuals with intellectual disabilities.