UAE, Saudi Arabia lead fundraising effort in Ramadan refugee appeal: UNHCR chief

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An annual Ramadan appeal to help displaced refugees receive lifesaving support and aid has seen people across the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia make the highest number of donations in the region, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has told Al Arabiya English

For the third year, the UNHCR launched the ‘Every Second Counts’ fundraising campaign as the Islamic world marks the holy month of Ramadan.

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The UN agency launched the campaign while calling for greater support for millions of refugees and internally displaced persons in low-income countries hit hardest by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Houssam Chahine, UNHCR’s chief of private sector partnerships in MENA, told Al Arabiya English that the campaign has seen a flood of generosity from residents across the GCC.

"Every year, UNHCR appeals to the public during the month of giving and generosity to help raise awareness and funds for refugees and internally displaced people in need,” he said.

“The ‘Every Second Counts’ campaign focuses on the incredible impact individuals can create within seconds, in the lives of refugee and displaced families whose lives turned upside down within moments and who have been forced to flee their homes in search of safety.”

The campaign aims to raise funds through donations including Zakat and Sadaqah, to help provide lifesaving support such as shelter, food, clean water and monthly cash assistance, to the most vulnerable refugee and internally displaced families from Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Afghanistan, Nigeria, countries in the Sahel region, and Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh.

In the Muslim faith, Zakat is the obligatory annual payment required of every Muslim, while Sadaqah is a kind gesture made with the intention of helping others.

“We are grateful to the outpouring of support shown by the people of the UAE and KSA, with those who have been forcibly displaced,” said Chahine.

“People in the UAE, followed by KSA, rank highest in the number of donations made to UNHCR’s Refugee Zakat Fund, which is testament to their empathy and generosity, and trust in our ability to deliver 100 percent of their Zakat contributions to eligible displaced families.”

COVID-19 worsens refugee crisis

Chahine said COVID-19 has created a new emergency - on top of existing ones – for the millions of refugees around the world.

“The pandemic has compounded existing challenges for displaced people, such as poverty, food insecurity, discrimination, border closures, protection risks such as domestic violence and sexual abuse, and access to livelihoods and education.”

“The COVID-19 induced recession is expected to push between 88 million and 115 million people into extreme poverty. While precise measures are difficult, estimates by the World Bank and UNHCR point to a large and disproportionate impact on already vulnerable people, such as the forcibly displaced.”

In September 2020, a UNHCR assessment among 1,579 refugee and asylum-seeker households of different nationalities in Egypt showed that 42 percent of the respondents had lost their job and 98 percent reported lack of financial means to access basic hygiene items.

In Jordan, about four out of five Syrian refugees (close to 80 percent) were living under the national poverty line even before the pandemic, surviving on about $3 a day or less. While new assessments are currently underway, the impact of the pandemic on refugees in terms of loss of income and taking on debt was clearly severe.

The situation is even more difficult for female-headed households in Lebanon: A far higher proportion of female-headed households (68 per cent) than male-headed households (13 per cent) are using coping strategies categorized as “crisis level” or “emergency level."

Crisis coping strategies include marriage of children under the age of 18, selling productive assets, withdrawing children from school, and reducing expenditure on education and health. Emergency coping strategies include begging, accepting high-risk jobs or sending children to work.

“The donations received will help UNHCR in providing lifesaving support to vulnerable refugees and displaced families through the distribution of cash assistance and goods, allowing them to address basic needs including shelter, food, education, healthcare and debt repayments,” said Chahine.

In 2020, the fund has helped 2.1 million beneficiaries in 13 countries including Yemen, Lebanon, Iraq, Jordan, Egypt, Mauritania, Niger, Bangladesh, India, and Pakistan, through Zakat & Sadaqah donations.

Despite the growth that the Refugee Zakat Fund has witnessed due to generous contributions by individuals and institutional partners, the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has widened the gap between the needs of displaced families and funds received, said Chahine.

“Ramadan is a time of reflection and generosity, and a great opportunity to show solidarity with the world’s forcibly displaced especially during a time where it is needed more than ever,” said Chahine. “We are always surprised by the incredible outpouring of support and kindness that people have towards refugees, and more so during this Holy month and ask people to continue standing with refugees and internally displaced people during these difficult times. No donation, or act of solidarity is too small."

Zakat and Sadqah donations to refugees in urgent need can be given now via zakat.unhcr.org and UNHCR’s newly launched Zakat mobile application “GiveZakat”.

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