Abu Dhabi students helping UN initiative to aid Syrian refugee families

Abhimanyu Vasishth, Miha Klasinc, Peter Hadvab and Dominique Lear, all from NYU Abu Dhabi, have launched a social media campaign to raise awareness of a UN initiative called Lifeline Appeal.

Peter Hadvab, Domnique Lear and Abhimanyu Vasishth want to help 12,000 Syrian refugee families. Vidhyaa for the National
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As Syrian refugees prepare to bear the brunt of yet another harsh winter, a team of university students is doing its part to help those without a permanent home prepare for the cold weather.

Abhimanyu Vasishth, 19, Miha Klasinc, 20, Peter Hadvab, 21, and Dominique Lear, 21, all from NYU Abu Dhabi, have launched a social media campaign to raise awareness about a United Nations initiative in Jordan called Lifeline Appeal, and said they have contributed to its financial success.

The programme aims to provide financial assistance to vulnerable Syrian refugee families living outside camps in Jordan by the end of the year.

Ms Lear, from Mexico, said while much attention has been paid to refugees arriving in Europe, awareness needed to be raised about those who remained in the region.

“It’s something that usually goes under the radar,” she said. “There are so many people that have had such a difficult time over the past five years during the crisis, in trying to settle down in Jordan.”

The UN estimates that those living outside the camps in Jordan make up more than 84 per cent of the total Syrian refugee population.

Under the UN-led initiative, money raised is given to these families, allowing them to manage their own finances and meet needs such as heating and shelter.

For some families, the coming winter will be their fourth as refugees, said Dalia El Fiki, senior public information assistant at the United Nations Refugees Agency office in Abu Dhabi.

“Winter is unfortunately a time when refugees suffer immensely given the harsh weather conditions and drops in temperature, all the while struggling to secure heating or insulated shelter,” she said.

The campaign is approaching the midway point of its goal, with about US$8 million (Dh29.38m) raised so far, which will help just about 6,000 families.

The ultimate goal is to help 12,000 families.

The UN said Dh5,500 was needed to secure the basic needs of an average Syrian refugee family living in Jordan for an entire year.

However, getting work was a major obstacle, with only about 1 per cent of refugees holding valid work permits.

“Because of their legal status, it’s very difficult for them to get jobs. So they have to rely on these types of donations,” Mr Vasishth said. “Giving them cash assistance means they have the freedom to spend money on what they need most.”

The students said Lifeline Appeal had few overhead costs, allowing most of the money raised to go directly to refugees.

They have gathered more than 4,600 likes on their Facebook page since its launch at the end of November.

Page followers can use the hashtag #myfamilyismylifeline to encourage people to share news articles, stories and the situation refugees face daily, as reported directly by UN staff in Jordan.

They said some posts had generated as many as 6,000 views.

“We can form a personal connection with the social media pages,” Mr Vasishth said.

The campaign has contributed to the financial success of Lifeline Appeal, generating enough funds to directly impact at least 100 families, they said.

“A lot of it has been through collaborative efforts with the UNHCR, but I think we’ve managed to put a good dent into it,” Ms Lear said.

With only a couple of weeks left, the students are aiming to reach the goal of helping 12,000 families.

“I think this is something that can be achieved, and we would be really excited to do so, but ultimately the more families we can get off the waiting list, the better. That is the ultimate goal of the campaign.”

Members of the public who wish to contribute can do so at donate.unhcr.org/JOLifeline.