Sheikha Jawaher voices support for Syrian refugees

WAM SHARJAH, May 22nd, 2013 (WAM) — Sheikha Jawaher bint Mohammed Al Qasimi, wife of H.H. Dr Sheikh Sultan bin Mohammed Al Qasimi, Supreme Council Member and Ruler of Sharjah, and UNHCR Eminent Advocate for Refugee Children, said today that despite warnings from UAE authorities advising citizens about the risks of visiting Beirut due to religious tension and instability, she decided that since refugee children are experiencing these dangers every day, she would visit and bring them hope.

”My humanitarian responsibilities cannot be fulfilled by staying in the safety and comfort of my country, but by seeing first hand the hardships faced by Syrian refugees in Lebanon. I have wonderful memories of my previous visits to Lebanon with my family when I was a girl. I was greatly impressed by the big hearts of the Lebanese people, who made me feel at home. The beautiful beaches, vibrant culture and other attractions made Lebanon one of the region’s most popular tourist destinations. However, on my latest visit I was greatly saddened to see how religious and political instability is having such a negative impact on Lebanon’s tourism industry.

The religious tension in Lebanon has caused disharmony within the population, impeding the nation from reaching its vast potential. People should never be judged on their sectarian or ethnic background, but only by their big hearts and their goodwill for all humankind. Ever since I was old enough to understand through the world of communication and media, the Lebanese people have been renowned for their passion for art, music and other aspects of their vibrant culture. The country is known for its rich Arab heritage, all this forms the foundation of the beauty of Lebanon.

During this visit to Lebanon, I was touched by the way this country has opened up its big heart and its arms to refugees from various countries over the decades. Even in the midst of all this suffering, Lebanese people do not look down on refugees; but instead respect them as equals who also have their own hopes and dreams.

On behalf of the UNHCR, I visited many refugee communities to witness their living conditions. I met a group of Syrian ladies who shared their grief about their situation – particularly the suffering of their innocent children who have been torn away from their friends, relatives and schools. After being displaced from their cities and villages, these ladies not only lost their homes, but also many of their human rights, their sense of security, stability and peace of mind.

However, I was greatly inspired because despite losing all these things, they never lost their self-esteem and their pride. Even after most of the men in their families were killed, these women still believe in their own abilities to work for their children with dignity and honour, if only they are given a fair chance. God willing, they will one day return to a peaceful Syria with their heads held high, knowing that their hard work has made them very honourable ambassadors and role models for Syria – giving the world a positive picture of the greatness that Syrians are capable of.

One area I was particularly interested in during my visit is the education obstacles faced by refugee students. I was greatly heartened to see Lebanese families opening their homes to Syrian children, and refugee students learning side by side with their Lebanese brothers and sisters. Meanwhile, the mothers of these refugee students are trying their best to make a living by selling beautiful hand-made crafts at various markets. Lebanese communities are contributing immensely by helping these Syrian craftswomen to market their products, thereby empowering them to pay for their children’s food, education, healthcare and other living expenses. I am touched because these inspiring women are not asking for handouts – they are simply asking for a fair chance to work for their children, because their destiny is in their own hands.

Through the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, we investigated the best ways to distribute aid through humanitarian workers so that donations can quickly and efficiently reach Syrians – whether they are living with Lebanese families or living in one of the rooms sub-divided among many refugee families. We have also engaged with various authorities to try to find a solution to the housing crisis, so that refugees can find secure hostels as a starting point for their new lives in Lebanon. We reached the consensus that well wishers can open up the lines of communication with us in order to assist refugees in finding secure accommodation.

Another encouraging sign from my visit is the selflessness and passion shown by UNHCR volunteers, who work tirelessly around the clock to find out the refugees’ needs. I observed that most of these volunteers are Europeans and North Americans who have sacrificed their own jobs and left their own families behind, so that they could work for Syrians – without asking for any payment or recognition in return. The sacrifices of Western volunteers made me question why we as the Arab world are not taking the lead and providing more volunteers and aid for our own brothers and sisters.

I returned from my trip even more determined to relieve the suffering of refugees. I thought I was going there to give them strength, but instead their dignity and determination has made me even stronger in my own humanitarian work. Despite our cultural, religious or ethnic differences, I want to reiterate that what unites us is stronger than what divides us.

May God grant our leaders the wisdom and compassion to always make their people’s well being their top priority. God willing, the sun will set on this dark chapter of Syria’s history; and the sun will rise again on a brighter future for Syria – where the exceptional dignity, hard work and big hearts of Syrians overshadow all the negativity.

I want to express my immense appreciation to the people of Lebanon who have opened up their big hearts to refugees. My thoughts and prayers are with all the volunteers and aid workers who are helping the UNHCR, and many other humanitarian organisations, to bring not only aid but also hope. My message to every refugee around the world is that we will not let you walk alone. God willing, a brighter and safer tomorrow awaits you.” WAM/TF/Moran