Young refugees, hidden potential: UNRWA holds lively discussion in NY about youth in humanitarian crises

25 July 2012

25 July 2012
New York

A diverse set of voices including a rapper, a filmmaker, researchers and diplomats, came together last week at the UN in New York to discuss the multitude of challenges faced by young people caught up in humanitarian crises.

Around 70 people took part in lively discussions at the event, organised by UNRWA, the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) and the Belgian mission to the UN. The session, moderated by UNFPA Deputy Executive Director Kate Gilmore, formed part of an annual three-day conference by the UN Economic and Social Affairs Council, which this year focused on how to improve humanitarian assistance.

All too often, said Sandy Krause of the Women’s Refugee Commission, the potential of young people in crisis-affected countries is left untapped. She was joined in the energetic discussion by four other panelists; Bajah, a young hip hop artist from war-torn Sierra Leone; Lisa Russell, a filmmaker focused on helping young people share knowledge in crises; youth researcher Yvonne Kemper; and Richard Wright, UNRWA’s representative in New York.

Needs and value

The afternoon’s debate presented young people in humanitarian situations as a group with specific needs and tremendous potential for rebuilding the future: a group that deserves to be meaningfully involved in the reconstruction of their communities.

Panelists urged civil society and the international community to take into account the specific needs of young people in crisis settings: access to education, training, recreation, sexual health services, employment, and freedom of expression.

Whilst the event focused on the broader challenges for youth in humanitarian settings, UNRWA’s Richard Wright drew on the experience of the Agency’s recent conference for young Palestine refugees. UNRWA was addressing its commitments to Palestine refugee youth, he said, with microfinance loans for young entrepreneurs in all UNRWA’s fields of operation, innovations in the Agency’s nearly 7,000 vocational training centres, and leadership skills training for young women.

The audience was treated to a screening of a short film by Palestine refugees based in Jordan. Speaking directly to camera, refugees Mira, Layali, Sawarbeena, Maram, Osama and Amal discussed the aspirations of their young community. Topping the list were inclusion, skills-building and career opportunities, greater resources for youth programmes, and the need to raise awareness about social responsibility amongst young people.

Speaking at the event’s close, deputy Belgian representative to the UN Thomas Lambert reflected that “an investment in young people is always a good investment and an investment in the future.”

Two UNRWA students from Gaza enjoy recess in their first day of school. © 2017 UNRWA Photo by Rushdi Al-Saraj
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