“In a lot of conflicts or disasters, there’s nobody else to help but UNHCR.”
While working as a UN peacekeeper in Timor-Leste (formerly East Timor) and Iraq, Andrew Atkinson witnessed UNHCR’s impact first-hand. In this interview, he explains why he decided to leave a gift to Australia for UNHCR in his Will.
You worked as a UN peacekeeper for four years. Can you tell us how you got involved and what the job was like?
I was a policeman for most of my life. I spent 28 years working with Victoria Police and had the opportunity to do secondments with the United Nations. Initially, I started in Timor-Leste, after the 1999 East Timorese Crisis caused mass displacement across that region.
My work there involved reuniting displaced people after the conflict had occurred, and assisting the local police in re-establishing their role in the region. I went to the villages where displaced people were being resettled and helped them assimilate back into their community. A lot of the work we did as peacekeepers was alongside UNHCR.
As a result of the work I did in Timor-Leste, I then got an opportunity to work in Iraq in 2004. They were vastly different working environments. My role in Iraq was much more about providing security for the United Nations in Baghdad.
What did you see when working directly with refugees or displaced people?
In Timor-Leste, the refugee villages were made entirely from tents, which acted as temporary housing. Sometimes displaced families would live there for months and months until they were relocated to villages within the mountains. You can imagine the harsh conditions these people faced, being in a tropical region. They endured constant, intense rain and stifling heat. It was incredibly confronting.
Coming from an affluent country like Australia, and going to a third-world country that has been exposed to a lot of conflict, you see the difficulties that people face. For displaced people who are left with nothing, UNHCR is there to support them.
What situations affecting refugees or displaced people concern you most right now?
I’m particularly concerned about the floods in West Africa at this point in time, which have required UNHCR to establish refugee villages to aid in the recovery. The other conflict is the confronting war happening in Ukraine.
Again, a lot of these people are just the innocent victims of conflict. There doesn’t seem to be any resolution in sight – millions of people have been left homeless, and lots of children have been displaced.
Why did you choose to leave a gift in your Will?
I think seeing the devastation first-hand throughout my career opened my eyes to what's actually going on in the world. It gave me a sense of compassion and concern. I contributed as much as I could in my career, but I'm no longer a peacekeeper, so I wanted to find another way to keep supporting UNHCR. I still have a sense of care, I've seen the work that UNHCR does, and I feel that leaving a gift in my Will is just the right thing to do.
What would you say to someone considering leaving a gift in their Will?
I've been exposed throughout my life to lots and lots of adversity, and seen a lot of conflict. There are many charities in the world that need help, but I believe the work that UNHCR does is extremely significant and important – it’s invaluable.
In a lot of conflicts or disasters, there's nobody to help but UNHCR, and there'd be many, many lives lost if it wasn't for the work they do. I feel that it’s the best option in terms of making a donation. I've seen the efforts they go to and know they certainly make a difference. A massive percentage of the donations goes to those in need.
How do you want to be remembered? One of the most inspiring ways to ensure your values live on is to leave a gift in your Will, like Andrew.
For more information about leaving a gift in your Will, please contact our Planned Giving Manager, Aylin Salt, on (02) 9276 6871 or [email protected]
Craftivists Stephanie Dunlap and Tal Fitzpatrick reached out to artists around the world to raise funds for Australia for UNHCR
The majority of funds raised by Australia for UNHCR are directed to UNHCR’s emergency operations, providing the ready funds and resources to respond quickly and effectively in situations of crisis and disaster.