Refugees are at risk of being forgotten as governments grapple with the financial fallout from Covid-19, a senior humanitarian has said.
Khaled Khalifa, the UN refugee agency's regional representative to GCC countries and senior adviser for Islamic philanthropy – UAE, said charity groups are instead having to rely on donations from the private sector and individuals.
Speaking on Monday to launch the UNHCR's report into Islamic philanthropy and the impact of its "refugee zakat fund" in 2020, he urged governments not to turn their back on those most in need despite the huge financial toll of the pandemic.
“There is a risk that countries and donors will focus internally and this is something we are afraid of,” said Mr Khalifa, also the UNHCR's representative to the GCC.
“We are calling on donors – individuals or governments – to really consider the plight of refugees at these very difficult times.”
As Ramadan approaches, Mr Khalifa also urged all Muslims to embrace the ideals of zakat and supports its fund. Zakat is one of the five pillars of Islam and is a form of alms giving that is treated as a tax or religious obligation. Muslims across the world donate around $76 billion in zakat each year.
The report revealed how in 2020 the UNHCR supported 2.1 million refugees and internally displaced people globally through these types of donations.
A total of $61.5 million was raised through its zakat initiative last year - a 12.5 per cent increase on 2019, resulting in a growth of 59 per cent in zakat beneficiaries.
The majority of those who received help - 1.6 million - came from 10 countries: Yemen, Lebanon, Bangladesh, Jordan, Egypt, Iraq, Mauritania, India, Niger and Pakistan.
Despite the sums raised, Mr Khalifa said the impact of the pandemic meant they needed more help.
The UNHCR has projected a global budget of $9.1bn to help meet the needs of refugees and the displaced in 2021.
He said $2.7bn was needed in countries where it will be distributing zakat, providing support to 24.2 million people in Jordan, Lebanon, Yemen, Iraq, Mauritania, Egypt, Bangladesh, India, Pakistan, Thailand, Iran, Nigeria, Burkina Faso, and Somalia.
The UNHCR said the UAE was the nation where the most individual donations came from. It was followed by Saudi Arabia, the US, Kuwait and Qatar.
The country which made the biggest contribution between the private sector and foundations was Qatar with the UK, the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait making up the rest of the top five.
The biggest beneficiaries of the fund in 2020 were the internally displaced in Yemen with more than 651,000 individuals and 110,000 families receiving aid.
“With the holy month of Ramadan upon us, we urge everyone to continue supporting refugees and displaced families who will welcome Ramadan in incredibly difficult circumstances,” he added.
Dr Koutoub Sano, secretary general of the International Islamic Fiqh Academy, who was taking part in the same panel discussion, praised the impact the money raised by the refugee zakat fund was having on marginalised communities.
“The Muslim community responded with generosity to the UNHCR’s refugee zakat fund, in particular in the context of the consequences of the pandemic," said Mr Sano.
“But the needs are still high, and there is much space left to cover for the expenditures of zakat-compliant activities.”
Dr Sano said Muslims had a duty to make zakat donations to help those who were most vulnerable.
“Just like you have an obligation to pray or fast you have an obligation to pay zakat,” he said.
“Not paying zakat is just the same as not praying or fasting or not travelling to Hajj when you are fit to do so.”