IGCF 2017 highlights human, economic impact of conflicts

SHARJAH, –The impact of conflict on refugees, host countries and the Arab region in general was discussed at a session on day two of the International Government Communication Forum (IGCF 2017), which concluded in Sharjah on Thursday.

Titled ‘Impact of Conflicts and Refugees on Arab Development’, the panel discussion, chaired by Houssam Chahin, Senior Private Sector Partnerships Officer for the MENA Region at the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), discussed the issues facing the millions of displaced people around the world due to conflicts and crises.

Topics included the role of women during the crisis, the role of the media in changing the situation, involvement of the private sector, and the impact of conflicts on children and youth.

Khaled Khalifa, Regional Representative of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees to the States of the GCC, said, “UNHCR figures show 65 million people have been forcibly displaced worldwide and 21.3 million are categorised as refugees. We must first agree that people do not leave their homes willingly. They leave because of necessity. Out of the huge numbers affected, 86 per cent move to developing countries which face their own economic and educational challenges.”

Highlighting the issue of education for refugees, he added: “Fifty per cent of refugees are aged from five to 17. Many will not go to school and very few will go to college or obtain further education. This is more than a lost generation we are talking about. These people have lost the chance to live as children. It is an international failure and we are urging the international community to concentrate on the education issue because it is a fundamental human right.”

Focussing on the issues facing female refugees, Mariam Farag, Group CSR Manager at MBC Group, said, “We have an economic and social disaster on our hands. We face a particular challenge with girls, some of whom will turn to marriage as a solution. We are trying to focus on education because girls are always the ones who will be affected when it comes to education. They will be the ones pulled out of school to help the family or to get married.”

Conflict does not just create a problem for refugees, however. Petr Kostohryz, Country Director for the Norwegian Refugee Council in Jordan, said, “When you are talking about 65 million displaced, there is also a huge impact on the host countries. When you take into account the refugees as well as the hosts, such as Jordan and Lebanon, there are 22 million people affected by the Syrian crisis.”

He added, “In Jordan, for example, 87 per cent of refugees live under the poverty line, even though we have over 70 agencies supporting the government in terms of access to education, shelter, health care and resources.”

Tamara Saeb, Head of Communications at Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF), Doctors Without Borders, UAE, said, “Conflicts and crises pose major challenges for us operationally and in terms of communications. Refugees move beyond their neighbouring countries and into Europe, and we have found that the Mediterranean route � to Greece and beyond � is the deadliest. In view of this knowledge, we have launched three search-and-rescue boats that enable us to provide support on sea while receiving migrants on the shores.”

She added, “We need to use the media narrative to humanise the problem. We are at a stage where we need to rethink how we tell the story of refugees needing health care, to get the public to react.”

Summing up the issues, the panel unanimously agreed there is a collective ethical responsibility to respond to the crisis more effectively.

Tamara Saeb said, “We realise this is a very complex issue, and it is going to be a challenge for everyone. But we all have to go beyond our comfort zones, and involve the private sector and the youth.”

Petr Kostohryz said, “It is about governments and the international community engaging better in the political process and also about individuals engaging better on their level.”

Mariam Farag said, “Our objective is to spread hope. There are numerous challenges but we need to be creative. If we all work on the individual level, we will create a chain of actions. My message is that we cannot be passive, we each need to take the opportunity and make the change individually.”

In closing, Khaled Khalifa added: “I am happy we have the same message. We all agree on the need for collective ethical responsibility.”

Under the patronage of H.H. Sheikh Dr. Sultan bin Mohamed Al Qasimi, Supreme Council Member and Ruler of Sharjah, the sixth edition of the International Government Communication Forum (IGCF 2017) was held from March 22 to 23 at Expo Centre Sharjah. Themed ‘Societal Participation Comprehensive Development’, IGCF 2017 examined how the world’s nations could leverage effective government communication to achieve the United Nations’ sustainable development goals (SDGs), which have become the top priority of government programmes, international institutions, media organisations and civil society.

Source: Emirates News Agency