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Kuwait’s private-sector promises support for UNCHR activities
April 22, 2017, 4:22 pm
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A high-level panel discussion held last week at the UNCHR Kuwait headquarters saw leaders from Kuwait’s private sector promise support for efforts to ease suffering among Syrians in refugee camps across the Middle-East and North Africa (MENA) region.

The Head of UNHCR Kuwait office Dr. Hanan Hamdan and UNHCR’s Head of Private Sector Partnership in MENA Houssam Chahine were joined in the panel discussion, by the CEO of Alghanim Industries Omar Alghanim and the CEO of Agility Tareq Sultan.

The discussion focused on what the private sector can do to become more involved in humanitarian efforts, and the impact of the refugee crisis on the region, not just from a geopolitical sense, but also from an economic perspective.

Speaking at the panel discussion, Dr. Hanan said the Syrian crisis has been the biggest since the Second World War, with more than five million Syrian refugees suffering from very bad conditions. She noted that more than a third of the 60 million persons who fall under the mandate of UNHCR are refugees, with five million registered as Syrian refugees. The UNHCR focuses on this group through prioritized programs such as protection, cash assistance, shelter, healthcare and education.

Thanking Kuwait and His Highness the Amir Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah for contributing immensely to easing the sufferings of refugees, Dr. Hanan noted that Kuwait’s contributions reached US$1.6 billion, of which $360 million had been to the UN refugee agency during the period from 2013 to 2016.  Kuwait has previously hosted three international humanitarian pledging conferences, and nine top donors’ meetings in support of the international humanitarian response to the humanitarian crisis in Syria. In 2016, Kuwait also co-hosted the Supporting Syria and the Region conference held in London, during which the country pledged US$300 million in support of the Syria humanitarian response over the next three years.

In early April of this year, the UNHCR and the Kuwait Fund for Arab Economic Development (KFAED) signed an agreement worth US$10 million to improve the living conditions of over 97,000 Syrian refugees in northern Iraq. The agreement was signed at a ceremony attended by Kelly T. Clements, the UN Deputy High Commissioner for Refugees, and Abdulwahab A. Al-Bader, the Director General of the Kuwait Fund for Arab Economic Development.

Highlighting the role that private sector in Kuwait can play in alleviating suffering of the millions of refugees around the world, including 21.3 million who are under the age of 18, Dr. Hanan pointed to the recent memorandum of understanding (MoU) signed between the UNHCR and Alghanim Industries. The three-year MoU will see Alghanim Industries provide support for various key programs aimed at educating Syrian children living in refugee camps in the MENA region.

For his part, Alghanim said participating in this event and signing MoU with UNHCR is a huge but long overdue step. The Syrian refugees' situation has been painful to witness and tragic for them to live through, he said, adding that the private sector has a key role to play and can make a big difference for refugees in the region.

The business community needs to be more proactive and that includes Alghanim Industries, and there is an opportunity here to start changing mindsets about a crisis that is not going away, he added.  "Hundreds of thousands of Syrian children of school age are missing out on education, we are in danger of creating an entire generation of Syrian children without the skills, confidence, support and resilience to build a livelihood for the future," he confirmed.

The MoU aims to address the educational needs of refugee children, so as to empower and help them overcome their immediate and long-term challenges, through outreach programs, homework support groups, parent engagement and foreign language groups for 10,000 Syrian children in Lebanon, so as to empower the young and help them overcome their immediate and long-term challenges.

The MoU will support the ongoing second shift in Lebanese public schools, which enable retaining Syrian children in the Lebanese national education system, and help bring back some of those who dropped out.

For his part, CEO of Agility Tareq Sultan said, "Agility like many other companies has tried to support people in need: From sponsoring 285 families as a part of UNHCR's cash assistance program to donating logistics to move relief supplies to refugees in Greece and Jordan." Sultan indicated that he hoped to see multiple companies working together, engaging with the UNHCR and the private sector for relieving the plight of refugees. 

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