The Organizing Committee of ‘Investing In the Future: Protecting Refugee Children and Adolescents – MENA’ (IIFMENA) unveiled in a press conference that was held yesterday (Wednesday) the details of the first ever international conference on refugee children issues in the Middle East and North Africa region.
The IIFMENA will be organized under the patronage of His Highness Sheikh Dr Sultan bin Muhammad Al Qasimi, Member of the Supreme Council and Ruler of Sharjah on 15th and 16th of October, in presence of over 300 international figures including leaders, and top officials concerned with the issues of refugee children in the region and the world.
The conference will be held upon invitation from Her Highness Sheikha Jawaher bint Mohammad Al Qasimi, Wife of His Highness the Ruler of Sharjah, and UNHCR Eminent Advocate for Refugee Children, and in collaboration with Big Heart campaign The list of dignitaries, VIPs and senior officials who will attend the conference includes Her Majesty Queen Rania Al Abdullah of Jordan who will deliver a keynote speech on the opening day; Mr. Antonio Guterres, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees; Sheikh Nahyan bin Mubarak Al Nahyan, Minister of Culture, Youth and Community Development, Dr. Nabil Elaraby, Secretary-General of the League of Arab States, Pierre Krähenbühl, Commissioner-General of UNRWA, and Lynne Featherstone, DFID minister, UK
Mariam Al Hammadi, Director of Salam Ya Seghar, said in the press conference, that the “Investing in the Future” conference, which is being held for the first time outside the UNHCR headquarters in Geneva, will develop the necessary mechanisms to ensure the protection of refugee children and youth in the Middle East and North Africa region, and provide rights for them, particularly shelter, food, healthcare, psychological rehabilitation and education. In addition, it will ensure that refugee children get the necessary legal documents and access to actively participate in community.
Al Hammadi said that the large number of leaders and government officials, regional and international experts in refugee issues and children protection, will enhance chances of success and facilitate the implementation of the recommendations on regional and international levels, particularly in the presence of influential figures in refugee issues, such as Zainab Bangura, Special Representative UN Secretary-General on Sexual Violence in Conflict; Ahmed Al Hindawi, United Nations Envoy for Youth; and ministers from the UAE, GCC countries, and a number of the refugee host countries.
Al Hammadi clarified that the conference will include a number of discussion panels and workshops over the two-day session, and Policy Forum activities which will present a panel entitled “Towards Better Protection of Refugee Children and Adolescents in the Middle East and North Africa Region”, a high level panel titled “Enhancing Protection of Refugee Children Through National and International Protection Frameworks”, and four parallel sessions that will discuss children protection, sexual and gender-based violence, the children affected by armed conflict, and the importance of legal documentations.
The sessions will discuss how children and youth can protect themselves, education issues for refugees, the role of family and community in protecting refugee children, and will also look at the role of the private sector and media in providing support and protection to children.
The director of Salam Ya Seghar spoke about the Youth Forum which will be held on the sidelines of the conference: “The Youth Forum aims to spread awareness among youth on the refugee issues in the MENA region, and highlight a number of important initiatives in refugee protection in the region. The forum includes workshops presented by the UNHCR, and other humanitarian organizations, with the aim to educate, engage and encourage youth to positively contribute to community”, she said.
Mohammed Abu Asaker, the Public Information and Communications officer at United Nations High Commissioner for Refugee, said: “Investing in the Future conference comes at a critical time, with the increasing number of refugees in the Middle East in the last few years. In the current tragic human conditions, children form more than half the number of refugees in the MENA region. The impact of displacement on children is dire, especially the drop-out school children who are more vulnerable to ignorance and loss”.
He added that the objectives of the conference are not only to work together for children and youth protection, but also to take common action and exert joint efforts to improve the lives of children. He stressed the importance of Sharjah hosting this international conference.
He clarified that the number of refugees in MENA is over 3.8 million. Of this number, over 3 million are Syrian, and 1.8 million are children. The number is expected to reach 2 million children in the coming two months. More than half of them are of school age, and most of them turned to the labor market to make a living at the expense of school and education, and therefore at the expense of a future. The major risk occurs when the refugee children lack their basic needs. He pointed out that over 8000 Syrian children are not accompanied by their parents and are identified as separated from immediate family.
He added: “We are aware that the support extended to refugee children should not be limited to basic needs, despite the importance of these needs, but we should offer all that can help make quality leaps in the lives of refugee children, give them their full rights and protect them from risks. Children have the right to live in normal conditions until they return to their countries. Our efforts must focus on that. We are convinced that we should not ignore the rights and needs of refugee children, in order to protect them from the many dreadful risks they may face. The needs include the basic ones such as healthcare and education, in addition to psychological treatment: how to rehabilitate children and provide the psychological care they need, due to the dire situations the refugee children are going through. We seek through coordination with Big Heart Campaign and various parties, organizations and experts in refugee affairs, to address these life and future threatening risks”.
He added that the relation between the UNHCR and the Big Heart are excellent and the cooperation is extremely productive, initiatives and efforts for refugee children. He added that holding this international conference for the first time outside the UNHCR headquarters is evidence of this vibrant and solid relation.
Speaking about the expected recommendations and conclusions, he said: “We are looking forward to have a historical event and milestone that will make a difference in the lives of refugees. We expect work mechanism for unified efforts of refugee organizations and entities to make a noticeable difference”.
Osama Samra, Director of Sharjah Media Centre, said: “Hosting this great humanitarian event in Sharjah under the generous patronage of His Highness Ruler of Sharjah reaffirms the dynamic role played by Sharjah in championing the humanitarian causes, particularly the refugee children causes. This event is built on numerous initiatives launched by the philanthropist Her Highness Sheikha Jawaher bint Mohammed Al Qasimi, who generously offers assistance to children and young adult all over the world”.
He added that Sharjah Media Centre is honored to work together with all the participants and sponsors of this prestigious international event to achieve its noble causes, adding, “We will utilize all our resources to deliver great exposure to this event.”
The conference is expected to attract wide media coverage due to the diverse topics and panels, the level of participants and the increasing number of refugees in the region’s countries. The results will help develop mechanisms to unify efforts of the concerned international organizations to alleviate the suffering of refugees and improve their living conditions.
The conference is supported by Sharjah Media Centre, the strategic media partner; Sky News Arabia, the associate Media Sponsor, and the Youth Forum is sponsored by Strategic Partner, Sharjah Business Women Council and Associate Partner Sharjah Tatweer.