On March 19-20 2012, UNRWA convened a conference funded by the EU and hosted in Brussels by the Government of Belgium. “Engaging Youth: Palestine Refugee Youth in a Changing Middle East” saw world leaders and opinion makers, civil society and Palestinian refugee youth come together to discuss their concerns in a frank, open manner.
The youth seized the space, making clear that they were more than equal partners in the discussions. There was consensus among host and donor countries, private partners, NGOs and UN agencies on the need to work with and for youth.
The event provided new clarity to UNRWA’s programming vision. At the conference’s close, Commissioner-General Filippo Grandi unveiled an agenda of ten commitments. Many of these build on work that the Agency is already doing; others will enhance UNRWA’s ability to incorporate youth views.
UNRWA seeks support for these commitments, which readily link to existing strengths and assets within the organisation.
We will make classroom life more dynamic, emphasizing critical thinking skills among our students; in part by supporting our teachers to lead student-centered classrooms as part of education reform. Children should learn how to question and know how to find the answers. This is indispensable if we want children to become young people able to think critically, and to make informed choices.
We will better focus on youth issues within the new family-centered health reform. With non-communicable diseases now the single greatest threat to the health of the refugees, preventive care and learning healthy life-styles are crucial for youth. We want young people to make healthy life choices and to have their health concerns addressed sensitively.
We will continue to invest in making technical training more relevant. We will introduce more short-term courses, driven by labor market demands and on-thejob training. We want youth to be economically productive.
We will increase lending to young refugee entrepreneurs. We have already launched a project with Silatech, an Arab microfinance innovator, to give refugee youth entrepreneurs what is often beyond their reach: their first loan to start their first business. We want youth to know entrepreneurship is within their reach and holds great potential for them.
We will better connect students to scholarship opportunities. We want youth to have an open door to higher education, necessary in today’s job market.
We will expand the Engaging Youth approach, piloted in Syria, to other fields, stressing leadership, entrepreneurship, project and community development and technical training. We want youth to believe in themselves, develop career and life agendas, and see them to fruition.
We will advocate more clearly and specifically for the rights important to young refugees, such as the right to education, the right to work, the right to freedom of movement, just as we keep advocating for their rights as refugees. We want youth to have the opportunities they deserve and to be able to seize them.
We will build new alliances and strengthen our existing links with NGOs, the private sector, the UN system and others involved in youth programming. We want to learn from and work with others, and be swift and effective in our work with youth.
We will establish mechanisms to ensure that the views of young people play a real role in Agency programming. The American University of Beirut will lend space, resources and expertise to help us explore options. We want youth to know and to feel that the UNRWA is their Agency and aims to address their needs.
We will enhance direct communication between us and our young stakeholders, including through new media and social networking. We must be highly responsive in a rapidly changing environment and communicate with youth in ways they prefer to communicate.
By 2020, refugee youth (refugees aged 14-29) will number over 1.5 million. This represents an overall six per cent rise since 2010: four per cent in Jordan, eight per cent in the West Bank and 15 per cent in Gaza.