UN forum to focus on refugee children

Sharjah meet being held in collaboration with Sheikha Jawaher’s campaign will look at basic needs and protection from risks.

The sprawling Zaatari refugee camp in northern Jordan, near the border with Syria, provides shelter to about 100,000 Syrian refugees. Jordan is home to more than 500,000 such refugees. Khalil Mazraawi / AFP
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SHARJAH // Plans to protect, shelter and educate two million refugee children in the Middle East and North Africa would be drawn up at an international convention in Sharjah later this month.

More than 300 global leaders and government officials would attend the Investing in the Future conference, to be held from October 15 to 16, to mobilise joint efforts to improve the lives of refugee children and youth.

This would be the first time that such a meeting has been organised outside the Geneva headquarters of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.

“Children form more than half the number of refugees in the Mena region,” said Mohammed Abu Asaker, the UNHCR public information and communications officer.

“The conference comes at a critical time, with the increasing number of refugees in the Middle East in the past few years.

“The impact of displacement on children is dire, especially school dropouts, who are more vulnerable to ignorance and loss.”

The number of refugees in the Mena region stands at more than 3.8 million. Of this, more than 3 million are Syrian, including 1.8 million children. And this number is expected to reach 2 million children by the end of the year, said Mr Abu Asaker.

The children, more than half of whom are of school age, turn to the labour market for a living. More than 8,000 Syrian children are not accompanied by their parents and are therefore identified as separated from their immediate family.

“Children have the right to live in normal conditions until they return to their countries,” Mr Abu Asaker said. “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 might face.”

The support extended to refugee children should not be limited to basic needs, but should cover their rights to protection from risks, he said. This included psychological treatment and rehabilitation.

The UN meet is being held in collaboration with Sheikha Jawaher bint Mohammed Al Qasimi, the wife of the Ruler of Sharjah, and her The Big Heart campaign, which provides for Syrian refugees with a focus on children. Queen Rania Al Abdullah of Jordan would deliver a keynote speech on the opening day.

“We are looking forward to having a historical event and milestone that will make a difference in the lives of refugees,” Mr Abu Asaker said.

Attendance by government officials, regional leaders and international experts in refugee and child protection would help facilitate the implementation of recommendations, said Mariam Al Hammadi, the director of the Salam Ya Seghar initiative.

The meeting also aims to ensure that refugee children are provided with the required legal documents and access to participation in the community, she said. The sessions would discuss sexual and gender-based violence, children affected by armed conflict, how children and the youth can protect themselves, the role of family, community, the private sector and media.

A youth forum would also be organised on the sidelines. “The forum includes workshops presented by the UNHCR and other humanitarian organisations with the aim to educate, engage and encourage youth to positively contribute to the community,” Ms Al Hammadi said.

rtalwar@thenational.ae