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UNRWA Hosts a Virtual Event with the UN Special Envoy on Youth: Voices from Palestine Refugee Youth – Challenges, Aspirations and Opportunities
Yesterday, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) hosted a virtual event on the occasion of the World Youth Skills Day titled “Voices from Palestine refugee youth – challenges, aspirations and opportunities”. This event included a panel discussion between the UN Special Envoy on Youth, Jayathma Wickramanayake, and five young Palestine refugee students and graduates from UNRWA schools and vocational training centers. The event was attended by over 60 people.
Malak Qasem (Jordan), Dala Loubani (Lebanon) and Hanan Abu Asabeh (West Bank) reflected on their experiences as members of the UNRWA Student Parliament. Yasser Al Ostath (Gaza), who is studying Mechatronics Engineering at the UNRWA Gaza Training Centre, explained how this course provides him with the necessary skills and expertise to realize his ambitions. Nowras Rahhal (Syria), a Ph.D. student and researcher at the University of Vienna, elaborated on how his UNRWA teachers contributed to developing his potential.
All five panelists highlighted the value of the education they received in UNRWA schools, including through the Human Rights, Conflict Resolution and Tolerance (HRCRT) Programme. Dala said, “UNRWA schools not only provided me with quality education, but also taught me about human rights, democracy, and equality.” They all underscored how important their right to education is, explaining it is a critical condition for the realization of their dreams and contributes to equal opportunities.
In their conversation with the UN Special Envoy on Youth, the young Palestine refugees discussed the different challenges they encounter in their respective host countries. Nowras recalled his journey as a displaced Palestine refugee from Syria, “I can’t even imagine how much harder it would be without institutes such as UNRWA, getting a proper education or access to health care without official identification papers.” The speakers underlined the importance for the international community to support their human rights as young Palestine refugees, particularly their right to education.
The young panelists also explained how they work to overcome challenges and fulfil their aspirations. They demonstrated their eagerness to build on the education they received to help their communities, like Yasser, who is developing an affordable robotic arm for people who were injured by the conflicts in Gaza. Or Hanan, who advocated for her peers in international fora as a student parliamentarian, and Malak, who aspires to become a surgeon. Each speaker demonstrated a remarkable determination to achieve their great potential.
Special Envoy on Youth Jayathma Wickramanayake appreciated the dedication and energy of the young panelists. She called on Member States to support UNRWA and its education programme, emphasizing that education is a lifeline for Palestine Refugees, a window to realize their dreams and a way to a safe and empowered life. She said this was further illustrated today by the stories of the panelist. The Youth Envoy moderated the event together with Greta Gunnarsdottir, Director of the UNRWA Representative Office New York.
Palestine refugee youth encounter increased vulnerability across all UNRWA fields, from the impact of a protracted war in Syria to the severe economic crisis in Lebanon, the occupation in the West Bank and the blockade in Gaza. While UNRWA provides young Palestine refugees with quality education, specialized vocational training and job opportunities, they face significant challenges in accessing labour markets as youth unemployment rates are high in the region. At the same time, as today’s speakers demonstrated, young Palestine refugees have proven their determination to access their right to a bright future.
UNRWA is confronted with an increased demand for services resulting from a growth in the number of registered Palestine refugees, the extent of their vulnerability and their deepening poverty. UNRWA is funded almost entirely by voluntary contributions and financial support has been outpaced by the growth in needs. As a result, the UNRWA Programme Budget, which supports the delivery of core essential services, operates with a large shortfall. UNRWA encourages all Member States to work collectively to exert all possible efforts to fully fund the Agency’s Programme Budget. UNRWA emergency programmes and key projects, also operating with large shortfalls, are funded through separate funding portals.
UNRWA is a United Nations agency established by the General Assembly in 1949 and mandated to provide assistance and protection to some 5 million registered Palestine refugees. Its mission is to help Palestine refugees in Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, West Bank and the Gaza Strip achieve their full human development potential, pending a just and lasting solution to their plight. UNRWA services encompass education, health care, relief and social services, camp infrastructure and improvement, protection and microfinance.
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