UN official ‘hopes for more refugees to be welcomed in UAE’

With children making up more than half the refugee population worldwide, UNHCR's assistant high commissioner for protection at the UNHCR said refugees, especially children, must be integrated into national systems.

As the UAE prepares to take the first of 15,000 refugees Volker Turk, the assistant high commissioner for protection at UNHCR, says he hopes more people affected by conflicts will be welcomed in the Emirates. Reem Mohammed / The National

DUBAI // As the UAE prepares to take the first of 15,000 refugees, a senior United Nations official said he hoped more people affected by conflicts would be welcomed in the Emirates.

Children comprise more than half the refugee population worldwide, so refugees – especially children – must be integrated into national systems, the assistant high commissioner for protection at UNHCR said.

“The big challenge for us all in the next couple of years will have to be how do we ensure they are integrated,” said Volker Turk, speaking on the sidelines of the Dubai International Humanitarian Aid and Development conference.

“Children have access to national schooling so that we do not have to find parallel systems, which are extremely costly and don’t necessarily work.”

About 10 million people worldwide are stateless and less than half of refugee children have access to education, Mr Turk said. Displacement is the biggest challenge.

The UAE has been a longstanding partner of UNHCR. Last year, the country announced it would accept 15,000 refugees over the course of the next five years, although they will not be treated as refugees upon their arrival, and instead as residents.

“We’re very encouraged by the announcement so we’re having discussions with the government about it now,” he said.

“We need to always hope for more [refugees] to be welcome here as part of our job, but it’s a very good beginning.”

Many refugee children are born stateless because birth certificates for them are not issued.

“It’s important that birth registration is done for every child and it doesn’t always happen,” Mr Turk said. “I saw it in Kuwait. Sometimes it’s overlooked but we’ve now worked in Lebanon, Jordan and Iraq with all the civil registry ministries to ensure they are aware of it.”

He urged countries, including the UAE, to ensure that births are registered to prevent a stateless generation of children.

“We want to find ways to end child statelessness. There are still too many and it perpetuates marginalisation and can easily be avoided by granting children nationality,” he said.

“The vulnerability you find in these children is quite striking.”

According to the UN, half a billion children are estimated to live in situations of crisis, wars and disasters, whether protracted or recurrent.

“This is the new normal,” said Dr Mukesh Kapila, professor at the Humanitarian and Conflict Response Institute at the University of Manchester.

“Any humanitarian organisation anywhere automatically puts the emphasis on children, so what puzzles me is how we are in the situation we are in, where we’re bringing up a generation of traumatised children and God knows what the impact of that will be in terms of the future of the world.”

More jobs will also need to be created for this influx of refugees.

“Many things have to change to enable the situation to improve,” said Pierre Kraehenbuhl, commissioner-general at the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East. “

We need the creation of jobs and opportunities for these young people if we are serious about stability in the Middle East,” he said. “We cannot continue educating them into unemployment.”