His Excellency Hussain Al Hammadi, UAE Minister of Education gave the keynote speech today at the Youth Engagement and the Global Refugee Crisis conference organized and hosted by The American University in Dubai (AUD) and The UN Refugee Agency – UNHCR, in the presence of Commissioner Christos Stylianides – European Commissioner for Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Management, His Excellency Dr. Tareq Al Gurg, CEO of Dubai Cares, and students from AUD and several high school in the UAE.
The conference tackled how governments, the private sector, academia and NGOs can facilitate and further encourage youth involvement in public service and build effective programs in response to global crises.
H.E. Al Hammadi commented that the UAE’s role in international aid did not stop at the monetary assistance but also extended to the volunteers and the organizations present on the ground at refugee camps in Jordan as well as other locations. “The recent incident where Emirati charity workers (God rest their souls) were targeted in a terrorist attack in Afghanistan is a testament to the level of commitment of the UAE government, people and organizations to providing assistance and relief even in the face of danger,” he added.
Calling on everyone in the audience, he said that there was much more to be done. “As the global refugee crisis continues, it requires us all to think about how we can contribute positively, and how we can make a difference – questions raised by His Highness Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid when he declared 2017 ‘The Year of Giving’ here in the UAE. And one of the many examples he discussed was Volunteerism, a culture that is an integral part of any positive and productive society, a culture that the UAE is working hard to embed through its government and through its educational system.”
Welcoming everyone to the conference, AUD President Dr. Lance de Masi shared that the university’s mission statement related student success to the advancement of society. He explained, “Societies will advance commensurate with how humane, tolerant and open they are. And the true protagonists are indeed ‘better people’, defined as such from no single religious or moral perspective, but based on universal codes of decency and compassion.”
He continued, “on tackling how to engage the youth, the given is that the platform for action by students is built by knowledge, understanding and insight. More decisive is the value of other-centeredness, imparted by education and finding noble expression in civic and humanitarian endeavor on a global scale. An ambition for AUD, shared by our key constituencies, is for the university to assume a leadership role in advancing this perspective by developing social responsibility as both a curricular and co-curricular matter.”
As for Mr. Amin Awad, Director of UNHCR MENA Bureau and Regional Coordinator for the Iraq and Syria situations, he painted a bleak picture of the current situation mentioning that the number of people forcibly displaced by conflict and persecution – within their own countries or across borders as refugees, now exceeds 65 million, the highest in decades. He continued that against this devastating reality, populism, xenophobia and anti-refugee rhetoric have become more mainstream than any time in recent history. “In parallel, the world continues to witness unprecedented violence and displacement, political instability, sectarian strife, and an escalation in trafficking and smuggling.”
On where to go from here, Awad shared that for the first time in 65 years, last September, the UN General assembly unanimously adopted the New York Declaration, which commits to a ‘more equitable sharing of the burden and responsibility. The New York Declaration also calls on the UNHCR to develop and initiate a comprehensive refugee response framework which calls for a whole society approach. “As part of this framework, governments, local authorities, civil societies, faith communities, the private sector and people like you [the youth], would pool their forces to respond to refugee crises at inception,” he commented.
Awad continued by giving the audience and the students attending some solid advice on how to play a role in making a difference. “You can use your skills to help refugees, whether through volunteering or by working with organizations who help refugees, by holding awareness and fundraising events and joining local groups. We are looking to this generation of youth to further enhance innovation and technological efficiency in responding to humanitarian crises, and to leverage the budding spirit and culture of entrepreneurship in the region to the benefit of the most vulnerable.”
In closing, Awad called on all, “it is our collective responsibility to help ensure that the refugee crisis is not reduced to statistics, and that the anti-refugee sentiments are drowned out by sounds of positivity.”
Moderated by acclaimed journalist Rima Maktabi from al Arabiya, the first discussion panel titled How Can Governments Encourage and Facilitate Youth Engagement in Aid Work? invited Commissioner Mr. Christos Stylianides, EU Commissioner for Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Management, H.E. Dr. Tareq Al Gurg, CEO of Dubai Cares
H.E. Mr. Elias Bou Saab, Former Minister of Education and Higher Education, Lebanon, and Mr. Tom Fletcher, Former UK Ambassador to Lebanon, to share their experience with and involvement in alleviating the refugee crisis, as well as their experience in involving youth in humanitarian response. They tackled the role of governments in fostering positive action, particularly in light of the UAE’s announcement of 2017 as the “Year of Giving”, in addition to sharing regional governmental initiatives. The panelists shared their perspectives on the ways in which their respective institutions were facilitating youth engagement in humanitarian work.
The second panel, moderated by Houssam Chahin, Head of Private Sector Partnerships – MENA, UNHCR and titled Public Private Partnerships in Humanitarian Aid For Refugees brought together Mariam Farag, Head of CSR at MBC Group, Karim Seifeddine, Public Affairs and Government Relations Head at Citi, Middle East and Africa, Waleed Albanawi, Chairman and Founder of JISR Venture Partners, Kamel Al Zarka, Chairman and Founder, Falcon Group, and Shaden Khallaf, Senior Policy Advisor, UNHCR, all practitioners in the field of humanitarian aid as well as private sector actors, who have been engaged individually or in public-private partnerships to alleviate the refugee crisis. The panelist discussed how it is evident that now more than ever there is a need for more concentrated and coordinated humanitarian action, that involves the private sector. They tackled how the private sector and the public sector can work together to relieve some of this pain and distress, and the role of businesses in alleviating the impact of the crisis on the displaced.
The third and final panel was a story-sharing session about Youth Supporting Refugees, introducing the audience to UAE local and expat student, alumni and other youth-led initiatives and engagement in non-official and official education assistance programs, student networks and campaigns, social media movements and cultural events. Moderated by AUD Alumna Shahad Ballan, Presenter at MBC Group, Max Stanton (Max of Arabia), Social Media Influencer, AUD Alumna Haifa Beseisso, YouTuber, Founder of Fly With Haifa, AUD Alumna Mary Mwende, Youth Advocate, Sandor Mador, Exchange Student from Sciences Po, Zayed University Alumna Bushra Al Najjar, Founder and Project Leader of the Bring a Smile Initiative, M. Said AlGhabra, AUS, Tiril Hoye Rahn, NYUAD, and Emina Osmandzikovic, NYUAD, all shared their stories of contributing to improve the lives of refugees, by promoting positive images through diverse media channels, producing artworks that debunk stereotypes and art therapy, and engaging in volunteering programs and in capacity-building local projects.
In the closing session, Professor Helen Storey, Fashion Designer and Social Artist, presented the audience with Dress for Our Time, followed H.E. Mr. Bou Saab announcing the launch of the UNHCR Youth Chapter.