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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 10 December 2018

UAE conference hopes to help more than 2 million displaced children in region

Experts from child protection agencies, the UAE, government officials from other countries and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees will meet in Sharjah to discuss how to protect refugee children from exploitation and violence.
Sheikha Jawaher’s Big Heart campaign has raised more than Dh47 million in the past year. Courtesy UNHCR
Sheikha Jawaher’s Big Heart campaign has raised more than Dh47 million in the past year. Courtesy UNHCR

DUBAI // With more than 2.6 million children and adolescents displaced in the Middle East and North Africa, the UAE is looking to help the United Nations draft a protection plan to assist them.

At the Investing in the Future conference to be held on October 15 and 16 in Sharjah, experts from child protection agencies, the UAE, government officials from other countries and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) will discuss how to protect these refugees from exploitation and violence.

Sheikha Jawaher bint Mohammed Al Qasimi, the wife of the Ruler of Sharjah, said governments and organisations had a responsibility to ensure children’s rights were upheld and that they grow up in a safe environment.

“The conference seeks to make recommendations and adopt steps to protect the rights of refugee children, and to put the necessary measures in place to protect them from exploitation and violence, giving them confidence and hope of a better future,” said Sheikha Jawaher, an UNHCR eminent advocate for Refugee Children.

According to the UN, the number of child refugees in the Middle East and North Africa was up 30 per cent in the past two years. More than 800,000 Syrian children of school age alone were being hosted in Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Iraq and Turkey.

Sheikha Jawaher launched the Big Heart campaign in June last year for Syrian refugee children displaced by the country’s civil war and desperately in need of support.

The campaign has raised more than US$13 million (Dh47.8m) in the past year and has provided hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees with health care, clothing, blankets, shelter and food.

The initiative has worked in three phases, with the first focusing on medical intervention for 265,000 Syrian refugees and providing more than 400,000 people with aid in food and cash. In the second phase, funds were raised to provide shelters, blankets and clothing during the winter months.

The third phase, which is ongoing, raises money to educate more than 1.2 million children.

UNHCR said the conference was being organised in response to the increasing number of refugees in war-torn countries in the region.

Officials said the meeting hopes “to put measures in place to ensure children and refugees in the Middle East and North Africa are protected from the danger of all forms of exploitation and violence”.

“This conference comes at a crucial time,” said Antonio Guterres, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.

“Children currently constitute more than half of the refugees in the Middle East and North Africa, and the impact of this displacement is serious as interrupted childhoods threaten to become lost futures.

“As such, the aim of this event is not only to determine how we can work together to better protect refugee children and adolescents today but also how to take collective and concerted action to improve the future for these children.”

The UN refugee agency said ensuring comprehensive rights for refugee children, particularly the right to shelter, food, health care, psychological treatment and education, was one of the aims of the conference.

Sheikha Jawaher said the event was in line with the UAE’s mandates and the nation had a strong humanitarian legacy established by the late President, Sheikh Zayed, who led the way in fulfilling humanitarian deeds for disadvantaged and afflicted people in the country.

“Hosting this first-of-its-kind conference in Sharjah is to put the instruments in place that help protect these vulnerable children.”

Tuesday also marked World Humanitarian Day as humanitarian agencies in the UAE and other UN agencies in the country honoured aid workers who risked their lives to help others.

It was also the anniversary of the UN headquarters bombing in Baghdad in 2003, when 22 people lost their lives.

A walk was organised by Dubai’s International Humanitarian City at the Dubai Mall to express solidarity with humanitarian workers worldwide.

pkannan@thenational.ae