‘Youth Forum’ to be conducted in parallel with the conference UNHCR and Big Heart campaign organise refugee children protection conference IIFMENA to explore proactive measures to protect refugee children

Sharjah – September 13, 2014: UNHCR, the United Nation High Commissioner for Refugees, in collaboration with The Big Heart, under the patronage of His Highness Sheikh Dr. Sultan Bin Mohammed Al Qasimi, Member of the Supreme Council and the Ruler of Sharjah, has announced the first conference on refugee child protection in the Middle East & North Africa. Taking place from the 15th to the 16th of October in Sharjah, ‘Investing In the Future: Protecting Refugee Children – MENA’ (IIFMENA) marks the first conference of this size on this topic organised outside of UHNCR’s head-quarters in Geneva. The aim of the conference is to highlight the issue of the protection of children in the Middle East amidst the growing conflict in this region.

Featuring a full schedule of sessions aimed at creating proactive policy to support children caught in conflict in the region and ensure that their rights are protected. IIFMENA will bring together leaders, academics, policy makers, heads of international organisations, and donor agencies to study the challenges in the Middle East and North Africa to propose and agree on solutions to overcome those challenges.

In addition, the conference will also include the IIFMENA Youth Forum, which is being organised by The Big Heart and UNHCR in partnership with the Sharjah Business Women Council (SBWC) and Sharjah Tatweer Forum. Aimed at ensuring communication with the youth and the community, the Youth Forum will engage university and college students and faculty in a series of workshops focused on providing information on the initiatives currently in place to protect children and adolescents and explore ways in which they can contribute to furthering these goals.

Noura Al Noman – Director General of the Executive Office of Her Highness Sheikha Jawaher bint Mohammed Al Qassimi said, “One of the greatest tragedies of war and conflict situations is that a very large percentage of those affected are children, resulting in a disenfranchised generation that often have little hope for the future. Taking proactive action to combat the negative effect that war and conflict has on the young must therefore be a top priority. It is vital that we work together to protect the children caught in war in order to secure the future of the next generation in the Arab world and give these children the chance to live full and productive lives.”

Speaking about the Youth Forum in particular Erum Mazher Alvie – Advisor Management & Development at the Executive Office of Her Highness Sheikha Jawaher bint Mohammed Al Qassimi clarified that one of the important aims of the forum would be to educate young adults on the possibilities of careers in the social sector while simultaneously informing them of the plight of children within displaced communities. In addition the forum will also offer workshops on Social Entrepreneurship. “Very little information is currently available to the youth on the opportunities that exist in this area, an oversight which we intend to address during the forum. Through the workshops on Social Entrepreneurship we will explore the ways in which social entrepreneurship can help displaced communities as well as the indigenous populations in this region, with the aim of inspiring innovative young minds to step up and make a difference,” Alvie went on to remark.

The Youth Forum, which will see in the region of 500 to 600 participating students and faculty, will include workshops presented by the UNHCR, Mercy Corps, Ashoka and Sharjah Tatweer Forum among others with the aim of educating and engaging with the youth and leading them toward contributing positively to society in the UAE, the region, and globally. In addition the forum will also feature booths allocated to international and local NGOs where the students and members of the community will be able to speak to the representatives of different NGOs to learn more about their work in this region and what they are doing to help displaced communities and refugee children in MENA.

About Big Heart:
Launched by Her Highness Sheikha Jawaher bint Mohammed Al Qassimi, Wife of His Highness the Ruler of Sharjah – UAE and UNHCR Eminent Advocate for Refugee Children in June 2013, Big Heart for Syrian Refugee Children campaign works to relieve the plight of Syrian refugees with specific focus on the needs of children. Having already raised US$14 million in its first year and contributed to meeting the needs of hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees through the provision of emergency healthcare, clothing, blankets, shelter, and food, the campaign’s focus has recently been turned from emergency relief to education, as part of the efforts that aim to bring Syrian refugee children back to school to complete their education after being forced to flee their war-torn country.

About UNHCR:
The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees was established on December 14, 1950 by the United Nations General Assembly. The agency is mandated to lead and co-ordinate international action to protect refugees and resolve refugee problems worldwide. Its primary purpose is to safeguard the rights and wellbeing of refugees. It strives to ensure that everyone can exercise the right to seek asylum and find safe refuge in another State, with the option to return home voluntarily, integrate locally or to resettle in a third country. It also has a mandate to help stateless people.