UAE students gather to seek out answers to humanitarian problem

Students from across the country will take part in the Youth Engagement and Global Refugee Crisis, organised by the American University in Dubai in collaboration with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees on Monday.

Nearly 40 per cent of the world’s more than 65 million displaced people are from the Middle East and North Africa. AFP
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DUBAI // Hundreds of students will have the chance to make changes in the region and play their part in the UAE’s Year of Giving on Monday with ideas on relieving humanitarian crises.

They will take part in the Youth Engagement and Global Refugee Crisis seminar, organised by the American University in Dubai in collaboration with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

“The situation is so dire and 38 per cent of people displaced in the world are in the Middle East and North Africa, out of more than 65 million worldwide,” said Toby Harward, head of UNHCR Abu Dhabi.

“The biggest crisis is Syria but we also have major crises in Iraq and Yemen and, increasingly, in South Sudan, where it’s now become more than one and a half million fleeing to Uganda.”

Last week, the UN undersecretary general for humanitarian affairs, Steven O’Brien, said the world was facing the largest humanitarian crisis since the end of the Second World War.

“Our records keep getting broken,” Mr Harward said. “For us in the UAE, we have been extremely lucky that President Sheikh Khalifa declared this year to be the Year of Giving and we looked at the key pillars, which are corporate service responsibility, spirit of volunteering and serving the nation.”

From volunteering and education to training and creating new technologies to help displaced people, the students will have their say.

“Youth is a critical mass of the refugees,” Mr Harward said. “More than 50 per cent of refugees globally are children and youths and many of them aren’t able to have proper education and their lives have been put on hold.

“It’s natural to see what more can other, more prosperous and fortunate, youth do in the region and globally to engage [in] how they can make their voices heard and become more involved in projects to build effective programmes for refugees.”

Students from Zayed University, Sorbonne University - Abu Dhabi and New York University Abu Dhabi will attend the conference, along with the EU commissioner for humanitarian aid and crisis management, Christos Stylianides.

“We believe in the voice of the youth very much,” Mr Harward said. “They will talk about their experiences, what they’ve done in terms of volunteering with refugees in Greece and elsewhere or how they engaged with charities in the private sector. It’s important to get them involved because they are the voice of advocacy to provide a voice to refugees.”

The students can look no further than the country where they live for inspiration as the UAE is heavily involved in humanitarian work in the region and beyond.

“Young people can do many things apart from the usual volunteering and feel responsible towards the community they belong to,” said Elias Bou Saab, former Lebanese education minister and executive vice president at AUD.

“[They] can also start innovating ways and ideas that could help in such crises, whether it’s training, education, creating some type of technology aid, whether it’s an app or any way to ramp up educating children.

“Participating and feeling responsible is important. We’re not tackling how to put an end to [refugee] crises - we’re assuming these things exist [but] what can the community do? What should the reaction be and how can they help?”

Dr Tareq Al Gurg, chief executive of Dubai Cares, said the youth of today were technologically integrated, fast-paced and eager to change the world. “It is highly important to broaden the base of youth engagement in the region,” he said.

“The recent events around the world have delivered powerful examples of the potential of young people to mobilise, engage in social, economic, political and humanitarian issues and to drive the positive change they want to see.

“Dubai Cares aims to articulate an approach that supports young people to do more, do better and reach further in their local communities and beyond. We can only achieve this through a quality education, youth empowerment and creation of enabling environments for youth.”

For more information on the conference, visit