Muscat: “We have heard of the generosity and kindness of the Omani people, and asked them now to help those in Syria and Yemen, who need it most in their greatest time of need,” was the message issued by the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).
The global economic recession and spending cutbacks by governments across the globe mean that the UNHCR is unable to organise relief efforts and provide emergency supplies to those who need it the most, and in this context, the organisation has taken up crowd funding efforts to meet their needs.
“We are currently 52 per cent underfunded, which means we cannot help people who are in dire need of it,” said Omer El Naiem, the UNHCR’s campaign and advocacy officer for the MENA (Middle East and North Africa) region. “The political turmoil across the world and the economic uncertainty mean governments are unfortunately unable to fulfil their commitments to our relief efforts.
“This is why, we recently began a crowd funding campaign about 18 months ago,” he added. “In that time, we have received over half a million dollars in aid from citizens in Oman, and we are extremely grateful to them, but we need more to help those who need it.”
“Last winter, for example, we were unable to provide blankets to all of the refugees in Syria, because we didn’t have enough money to aid all of them,” he said. “The refugee situation across the world is even worse than it’s been since the Second World War.”
There are currently 51.2 million refugees and internally displaced people across the world, according to UN estimates. In comparison, World War II saw 40 million people being displaced from their homes.
Of these, 7.1 million people are in Syria, 5.3 million in Iraq, and a further 3.1 million are in Turkey, which currently hosts the largest number of refugees, and although the UNHCR is doing all they can to help these unfortunate souls, there is still more that needs to be done.
“We wish it were as simple as asking people to return to their homes and go back to their lives, but we all know that this is not possible because they have nowhere to go,” revealed El Naiem. “We use the money given to us to find them shelter, build schools for children, and give them an allowance so that they can fend for themselves.” “We also try to lobby the governments to help resettle these people, or try to secure work permits for them so that they can restart their lives,” he said.
Oman has donated about $630,000 to UNHCR causes (approximately a quarter of a million Rials) in that time, and given the rather young profile of the nation’s population in the region, is also a huge backer of the U.N.’s Voices For Refugees campaign.
“We upload video interviews of the refugees, and how people’s donations are helping them, on social media, so that people can understand the state they are in, and then share this with their friends to help raise more awareness about their plight,” said El Naiem.
About 6,000 of the nearly 50,000 subscribers to the Voices For Refugees programme are from Oman: a very sizeable amount, and the UNHCR’s recent Zakat donation campaign during Ramadan also drew in 2,300 donors from across the world.
“These are steps in the right direction, but we need to be in a situation where we can help everyone who needs our help in the right manner,” said El Naiem. “The Government of Oman has always helped those who need it most and we now want to cooperate with them to make that possible.”