One year after the start of the “Arab Spring”, where have these momentous events left increasingly marginalised, Palestine refugee youth? They will number over 1.5 million by 2020, so what should the international community do to engage this vital constituency for Middle East peace?
The United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), the European Commission and the Government of the Kingdom of Belgium will host a major international conference in Brussels on Palestine refugee youth. The event brings together policy-makers, human development practitioners and leading members of the diplomatic and donor communities. Participants include Baroness Catherine Ashton, High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Dr. Nabil El Araby, Secretary-General of the League of Arab States, Professor Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu, Secretary-General of the Organisation of Islamic Co-operation, and Filippo Grandi, Commissioner-General of UNRWA.
To prepare for the conference and to provide context for discussions, we have gathered stories from our fields of operation about the work we do to engage young Palestine refugees throughout the region.
Nablus, West Bank
13 March 2012
“When food or money is given, it is spent. It lasts only a short time. When students are enabled to go to university, it builds them as people and builds them for future life.”
Wala’, 21, comes from a small village outside of Salama in the West Bank, and is the second of six children. “When I was younger I never thought I would go to university; now, here I am,” explains Wala, lecture notes filling the bag that sits on her lap. The first from her family to go to university, Wala is one of five students who benefit each year from the Said Foundation Scholarship, delivered through UNRWA’s education department.
In addition to covering university tuition fees for their duration of study, an amount that can total up to USD 8000, the scholarship offers assistance in funding reference materials such as textbooks, and accommodations when necessary.
Wala is now a third-year law student at An Najah University in Nablus. “Since I was a child I wanted to study law. My early choice was right. It helps to promote freedom and equality.”
Over the past five years, the programme has seen 19 talented young refugees from all over the West Bank study a range of subjects, including economics, English, law, and pharmacy. More young women have benefited from the scholarships than men, and with engineering as their most popular course, they have also succeeded in breaking down gender stereotypes.
Early graduates have joined the workforce and are now supporting their families, while others are expressing interest in higher education.
Engineering student Hammad Ishaq Abu Za’noonah graduated from university with the help of a scholarship, and he now hopes to complete a PhD at Cambridge University in England. Once graduated, he looks forward to sharing his positive experience with others: “I want to help other people complete their studies.”
UNRWA’s Adel Zawawi meets students like Wala and Hammad daily. As education supervisor for the Nablus Area, he has witnessed their ambitions first hand. “Why do they study?” he asks. “All that trouble. All that work. Their desire is to build the future, and with it, a successful country.”
“I hope find work in Palestine,” explains Hammad, “to allow it to develop and to benefit the Palestinian community.”