Donors urged to dig deep as UN zakat refugee fund suffers pandemic slump

UNHCR Gulf chief forecasts $40 million income this year – down from $61.5m in 2020

Children at a camp for Syrians displaced by conflict that was flooded during heavy rains near the village of Kafr Uruq. AFP

The pandemic has made it more crucial than ever to donate to help refugees, a senior UN official said.

Khaled Khalifa, the UNHCR's regional representative to the Gulf, said available aid had decreased at the same time as the numbers depending on it were increasing.

The Covid-19 pandemic led to an inevitable reduction in the amount of money people were donating to charities.

Speaking to The National at Expo 2020 Dubai on Thursday, he said every dirham or dollar counted when it came to offering help to refugees and the displaced.

Don’t think that Dh10 is too small, it will make a huge difference in the field
Khaled Khalifa, UNHCR

“The future of humanitarian assistance depends on the future actions of people and their contributions,” Mr Khalifa said.

“Even small contributions will make a huge difference. Don’t think that Dh10 is too small, it will make a huge difference in the field.”

He was attending the Expo for the launch of the UNHCR’s mid-year report into Islamic Philanthropy, which was created in partnership with the Muslim World League.

The report highlights the effect of the organisation’s zakat donations on refugees and displaced people in the first half of the year.

The report revealed that almost 600,000 people in 12 countries benefited from the UNHCR’s zakat fund.

Aid worth more than $27 million was provided to refugees and the displaced in countries including Yemen, Syria, Lebanon and Iraq, of which 70 per cent was made up of zakat donations.

Mr Khalifa said the figure for the whole of 2021 was tracking to be down from the $61.5m raised in 2020.

“I think we’ll be in the range of $40 million by the end of the year,” he said.

“It’s almost 30 per cent less but I’m confident it’s a dip, caused by the repercussions of the pandemic, rather than a trend and we’ll see those numbers go up again in 2022 and will exceed what we raised last year.”

The UNHCR estimated there were more than 82 million people forcibly displaced around the world in 2020.

The majority of those, 48 million, were internally displaced by events in their own countries.

There were more than 20 million classed as refugees with 5.7 million people seeking refuge from events in Palestine.

Zakat is one of the five pillars of Islam and is a type of alms giving regarded as a tax or obligation.

Mr Khalifa said the situation was grim for the refugees who needed help right now.

“This money is a vital lifeline, especially to people in the likes of Yemen and Afghanistan,” he said.

“Our research is showing that 90 per cent of the beneficiaries are spending all the money on food because they are living in such miserable conditions. They can’t even afford to think about anything beyond that.”

One of the common misconceptions about the money raised is that it was used solely to help Muslims.

That was far from the case, said Abdulwahab Alshehri, general manager of media and communications for the Muslim World League.

“We believe the money people have is not actually theirs, it belongs to God,” he said.

“What comes from God goes to everyone without exception. It doesn’t matter if you are black or white, Muslim or non-Muslim, educated or non-educated.

“If you are in need, we will help you regardless of your background.”

People are encouraged to support the UNHCR’s campaign by donating through its website or via the app available on Google Play and IOS.

Updated: December 9th 2021, 4:23 PM