United Nations teams up with Twitter to give refugee plight a global platform

People across the region are being urged to do their bit to help millions of displaced forced to flee their homelands by disaster and conflict

Syrian refugees at Zaatari refugee camp, in the Jordanian city of Mafraq. Reuters
Syrian refugees at Zaatari refugee camp, in the Jordanian city of Mafraq. Reuters

The United Nations is joining forces with Twitter to raise vital funds to improve the 'dire' situation of millions of refugees seeking sanctuary in the Middle East.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHRC) is harnessing the huge global reach of the social media platform to shed a light on the plight of refugees and give them life-saving support.

While people across the UAE and the rest of the region are currently in the middle of another sun-baked summer, the initiative is urging everyone to ponder the harsh winter ahead.

Twitter users are being asked to retweet a UNHRC video about winter in refugee camps. Everyone who retweets it will be sent a donation request by UNHRC.

“We know people in the region care,” said Bathoul Ahmed, a UNHRC public information officer.

“People, generally, around the world want to help but people don’t know how to help or they tend to forget. It’s our job to remind people the situation is still really dire.”

About 14 million Syrians and Iraqis are currently displaced in the region with donations as essential as ever.

Last winter, hundreds of families were forced to evacuate makeshift shelters as flooding, heavy snow and bitter cold hit Lebanon, Syria and Iraq. Scores died last year.

Funds will be used to provide essential goods like thermal blankets, plastic sheets to cover shelters, heaters, gas cylinders, winter clothes and cash assistance. Donations will also improve camp draining to prevent flooding, one of the largest winter problems.

“Donations are the only way to do it,” said Stephanie Terroir, head of brand strategy at Twitter’s Middle East and North Africa office. “As much as people want to give away old clothes and they want to give away food, these entities know what they’re doing and our job is to make sure they have the right funds to make these things happen.”

The five-month campaign will move to the UK and the US after Dubai.

Each region will have a scarf knit with the Twitter handles of 500 people who retweeted the video. The scarves will be displayed at the UN headquarters in early December.

The campaign was created by the Middle East and North Africa Twitter office, which is headquartered in Dubai, and donations will help Syrian and Iraqi refugees in the Middle East.

The UNHRC helped 3.6 million internally displaced and refugee Syrian and Iraqis with winter assistance last year.

Early action is critical to making a difference.

In January 2019, Storm Norma affected an estimated 250,000 refugees in Syria, Iraq and Lebanon. Hundreds of families were forced to flee and scores died as informal refugee settlements were destroyed. Water levels in the Bekaa Valley of Lebanon rose by half a meter.

“Every year we see first hand the desperation faced by refugees in the region during the winter season,” said Ayat El Dewary, the UNHCR officer-in-charge in the UAE. “We hope that through this initiative, we will not only raise awareness on the plight of refugees but also raise the necessary funds to ensure that no refugee is left out in the cold.”

Updated: July 1, 2019 03:10 PM

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