“When the house was shelled, the gas cylinder exploded. I was next to it,” explained Wafaa Keyari, an eight-year-old girl from eastern Aleppo, Syria. Scarred and homeless, Wafaa, along with her parents and seven older siblings, went to live with nearby relatives but then had to flee in search of safety and went to a shelter in western Aleppo. There are millions just like Wafaa and her family, both in Syria and in different countries across the region.
The refugee crises in the MENA region and beyond reached a critical stage this past year. There are over 13 million people in need in Syria, with millions of others displaced and living below the poverty line in neighbouring countries, namely Lebanon, Jordan and Iraq. Close to 1.1 million people have been displaced in Iraq as of mid-September 2017, with an estimate of 11 million people in need. About 1.8 million refugees fled from South Sudan by mid 2017. Over 100,000 fled from Libya and over 14,500 migrants and refugees were held captive. More than 650,000 Rohingya fled from Myanmar since August 2017. About 2 million people had to flee from Yemen, with 21 million needing humanitarian aid within the country.
These numbers show the urgent need for more to be done to resolve these crises. The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) works hard to provide life-saving humanitarian aid for refugees, with help from our partners, NGOs and host and international governments. However, it’s becoming clear that a crisis of this scope needs more engagement across all stakeholders, and more specifically, from the private sector. We’ve seen the significant impact that a company can make when they commit to the cause, such is the case with Careem.
In partnership with UNHCR, Careem leveraged their existing platform to help refugees by offering a UNHCR car type through which customers in UAE and Saudi Arabia can donate AED 3 and SAR 3 respectively to the cause, as well as in Jordan, where Careem donates 5% of the trip price to UNHCR when customers enter a promo code. This initiative started in Ramadan 2017 and by end of year, Careem and its customers raised more than $100,000 in donations. The funds, which were donated by Careem customers and matched by Careem during Ramadan, will be providing support to 89 Syrian and Iraqi refugee families (about 373 refugees in total) based in Lebanon and Jordan, through cash assistance, for a complete duration of 6 months.
What we have accomplished so far is great. However, the journey is nowhere near being over. There are still millions of refugees that are in desperate need of support. Many businesses in the private sector have the capabilities to help on a continuous basis and can be a force for good. Nowadays, people are associating the brands they use with the causes they support, so it’s equally important for companies to show what they stand for and it’s up to us, the consumers, to demand it.
UNHCR is currently facing a funding deficit and we need the support of both individuals and private companies to help cover the basic necessities of displaced persons and refugees while they wait for a more permanent and dignified solution. If we look at Lebanon alone, we only received 36 per cent of the money needed to provide refugees with basic necessities in 2017. This is a shared responsibility and while we’ve witnessed the generosity of many people, governments, NGOs and companies, we need more people to step up.
When we speak of needs in terms of the millions of people displaced or the millions of dollars needed to offer refugees basic life saving aid, we lose sight of how we, as individuals or private companies, can help alleviate any of their pain. We tend to feel helpless in the face of the enormity of the aid needed. What this unique partnership and these results show us, however, is that when we come together as a community, we can make a difference. With your donations, 89 fathers and mothers were able to provide food for their families, 373 people went to sleep with a roof over their head, and 89 parents were able to purchase school supplies for their children. Beyond what is quantifiable, your donations allowed a family to dream of a better future, a child to not lose hope in the days that lay ahead, and people to live with dignity. Refugees are like you and me, ordinary people living in extraordinary circumstances with the same hopes and dreams. They count on all of us as a collective — individuals, governments and private sector — to keep these dreams, hopes and aspirations alive, and it’s something we can do, when we join forces.
Every little difference we can make, we should make. You can donate to the cause by taking a UNHCR car type with Careem in UAE, Jordan or Saudi Arabia, or through this page.
By Omer Elnaiem, Campaign and Advocacy Officer, UNHCR