This year, World Refugee Day serves as a reminder that we, as a collective global community, made a decision that every single person on this planet has a set of basic rights—even those individuals who were forced to flee their home country because those rights were directly threatened.
The coronavirus pandemic has created conditions for long-term damage to the opportunity for a decent livelihood for the 26 million refugees around the world. According to the UNHCR, refugees and displaced people in Middle East and North Africa are among the hardest hit. The small progress that we have made in the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals in the MENA region is being reversed by multiple crises. Now, more than ever, we need to work jointly across sectors and countries to support refugees in the interest of the region.
The last few months have shifted the international, regional, and local dialogue on how to address the pandemic, which has amplified the crisis for refugees and host communities. At the heart of every issue is the right to quality education. According to the Civil Society 20, part of the international forum of 19 countries and the European Union, access to quality education is essential to empowering people and advancing human capabilities. It is the only way in which we can secure inclusive, prosperous, and peaceful societies.
Fortunately, we are witnessing the strengthening of collaborative work. In the last month, Community Jameel, a nonprofit organization with a wide range of social programs, and the International Rescue Committee, the global humanitarian nongovernmental organization, brought together a group of caring influential leaders in the region who have activities directed at supporting refugees in the Arab world. Leaders like H.E. Abdul Aziz Al Ghurair, whose Refugee Education Fund has assured education for over 17,500 vulnerable youth in Jordan, Lebanon, and the UAE so that they can successfully transition to becoming self-sufficient adults.
The reality is that refugee children and youth have perilously low access to education in the Arab region. According to UNICEF, the Syrian conflict has severely worsened the region’s education challenge, resulting in over two million children and youth out of school inside Syria and in neighboring countries. In Jordan and Lebanon, a minimal percentage of youth have access to secondary education, and a fraction of the youth who would have been in postsecondary education are able to continue. In a pre-pandemic 2019 report, there is already evidence that the pipeline of secondary education is collapsing, ending the hope that these young Arabs will reach higher education.