x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

UAE's Big Heart beats for Syrian child refugees

UN says 805,000 children are among those forced to flee Syria. Sharjah Ruler's wife works to give them 'secure life every human has a right to'.

Louai Merfhed, a restaurant manager from Syria, says the UAE has done more for his homeland than any other nation – a fact that gives him some comfort while his wife is back in their country about to give birth to their first child. “The UAE is actually doing something for the people.” Lee Hoagland / The National
Louai Merfhed, a restaurant manager from Syria, says the UAE has done more for his homeland than any other nation – a fact that gives him some comfort while his wife is back in their country about to give birth to their first child. “The UAE is actually doing something for the people.” Lee Hoagland / The National

ABU DHABI // Syrian children displaced by the civil war are to receive a helping hand from the UAE, thanks to the efforts of Sheikha Jawaher bint Mohammed Al Qasimi, wife of the Ruler of Sharjah.

The chairwoman of the Supreme Council for Family Affairs has launched The Big Heart for Syrian Refugee Children campaign to get UAE residents involved in raising money.

"It is tragic that many refugee children are marking their second consecutive World Refugee Day without proper shelter, food and education," said Sheikha Jawaher, who is also the UN's Eminent Advocate for Refugee Children.

"Let us not leave them to face another year alone, and rather help them to overcome their situation as refugees and live a better life."

More than 1.65 million Syrians have fled the violence in their homeland since the war began in 2011, including more than 805,000 Syrian children.

Sheikha Jawaher visited Syrian refugees in Lebanon recently and said the experience moved her to action.

"I have been deeply touched by the generosity of their Lebanese hosts and the refugees themselves, because they share even the little they have with each other," she said.

"It is time to show them we stand by their side and we will spare no effort in giving Syrian refugee families and children the secure life that every human has a right to."

The Big Heart for Syrian Refugee Children campaign is text message-based and will collect funds to be funnelled through the United Nations High Commission for Refugees to those in need. Imran Riza, UNHCR representative to the GCC, said the commission deeply appreciated Sheikha Jawaher's commitment to supporting Syrian refugees.

"We are hopeful people throughout the UAE and the region will join Her Highness in sending a clear message of solidarity to Syrian refugees who have been displaced by the ongoing conflict," said Ms Riza.

"Women and children make up the majority of the Syrian refugee population, and ensuring that they are provided basic humanitarian assistance is a moral imperative."

For Abu Dhabi resident Louai Merfhed, 23, this campaign strikes a particularly strong chord. The Syrian expatriate is expecting his first child, a son, on July 5.

"I definitely support any effort to help the Syrian people," Mr Merfhed said. "And now, knowing I am about to be a father, everything changes. You never know, God forbid, this campaign could go to help my son."

He said he felt much gratitude to the UAE for help it was giving to his countrymen.

"The UAE has been so good about supporting the Syrian people - better than any other Arab country, I believe," Mr Merfhed said.

"The rest are all just talking, talking on the TV. The UAE is actually concerned for the people and doing something for the people."

The restaurant manager has had to send his wife back to Syria for the birth after a delay in transferring her visa caused an insurance problem.

"The birth here is very expensive, tens of thousands, but in Syria it is less than Dh1,000," he said. "My wife convinced me to send her back.

"She said it would be better in a sense to have her mother and my mother there to help. But as soon as she is able, I will bring her back."

And the Syrian government's conscription campaign means Mr Merfhed would have to pay US$5,000 (Dh18,360) to avoid being recruited when he returns to Syria. It means he will not be there for the birth.

"I'm hoping by August to have enough money saved to return to meet my son and be with my wife," Mr Merfhed said.

"I cannot explain the feeling to be honest - it's the best thing that happened to me in my life. And yet sometimes I find myself thinking about not being there …"

newsdesk@thenational.ae

* With additional reporting by Eugene Harnan