DUBAI // If the humanitarian and refugee crises affecting the region today are not properly addressed they will return as major issues for tomorrow’s generation, according to the Minister of Education.
On Monday at the Youth Engagement and Global Refugee Crisis at the American University in Dubai, Hussain Al Hammadi said that the UAE was working on instilling a culture of volunteering in school curriculums to ensure students take on the responsibility of humanitarian work.
“We see talent and creativity here that can come together to create innovative solutions to better deal with crises like these that we will continue to face since we live in this neighbourhood in turmoil,” he told students.
“I am sure you will come up with a different approach, quicker than what we came up with in the past 15 years. We trust youth will come up with more innovative solutions.”
The world is currently facing the worst refugee crisis in modern history, with more than 65 million people worldwide forcibly displaced.
“Refugees are suffering a lot from accommodation, security, health services and the host nation has a lot of challenges too,” Mr Al Hammadi said. “We have to think about issues like infrastructure, health care, the country’s financial burden, education and the cultural impact. We have to think about how we can strengthen the system in the UAE and regionally to help provide a positive impact because if we don’t put the right solutions to the current crises they will come back to us in the future.”
In 2014, the UAE was one of the top countries in providing humanitarian aid. Zayed University led volunteer work in Jordan where 600 female students applied to help.
“There is a willingness from the society here and a strong positive will towards volunteerism abroad, but the availability is limited,” Mr Al Hammadi said. “I hope through this conference we can create the opportunity for people living here to go abroad and serve humanity.”
He spoke of upgrading the UAE educational system to prepare students to take on such responsibilities.
“We’ve revamped the curriculum from KG to K12 on issues regarding volunteer work and we introduced moral education this year,” Mr Al Hammadi said. “When a refugee crisis happens, people don’t just leave their home, they lose one of the most important things, which is education. It’s difficult to provide high-quality education in a refugee crisis and this is the big issue that will come in the future towards us.”
The Middle East and North Africa accounts for 5 per cent of the world’s population yet it hosts about 40 per cent of the globally displaced.
“That’s a big number and it tells us a lot that we have to invest in the future, youth, peace, development and in the root causes of these crises,” said Amin Awad, director of the Middle East and North Africa Bureau and regional refugee coordinator for the Iraq and Syria situations at the UNHCR.
“We haven’t solved political crises during the past 15 years as much as we solved some in the 1990s. It takes us an average of 17 years today to find a solution to an open conflict.”
In Yemen, two million people are displaced with 80 per cent of the population in need of humanitarian aid. Syria has broken records with five million people scattered in the region across Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey, Iraq, Egypt and beyond, and another six to seven million displaced within the country.
“Ninety per cent of the population are in need of assistance and almost 100 per cent live below the poverty line,” Mr Awad said. “Education is suffering. Of those in host countries, with all the efforts of the government and communities, barely 50 per cent take education, including informal education.”
More than 75 million children and youth aged between 3 and 18 are currently out of school in 35 crisis-affected countries.
“Girls are the most affected with an estimated number two and a half times higher than boys,” said Dr Tariq Al Gurg, chief executive of Dubai Cares.
“One big challenge is education is not being prioritised. We are talking about a generation that could lose an entire education system – there is a lack of coordination in these countries between humanitarian agencies and governments and insufficient funding.”
Tom Fletcher, former British ambassador to Lebanon and senior adviser at the Emirates Diplomatic Academy, said that the UAE understood the importance of being a donor of ideas rather than just financially generous. “If these refugees get education, they’ll play a huge role in society,” he said.