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The Issam Fares Institute for Public Policy and International Affairs (IFI) at AUB hosted a conversation with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi, and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) executive director, Henrietta H. Fore, on investing in youth in the context of crisis. Part of IFI’s #AUB4Refugees initiative, the two-hour discussion was organized in partnership with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and UNICEF, featuring their assessment of the political realities and potential that youth face in contexts of crisis.
IFI Director, Dr. Tarek Mitri, introduced and moderated the dialogue, beginning by shedding light on the current Arab regional reality where youth constitute 30% of the population, making it one of the youngest populations in the world. This demographic reality, explained Mitri, coupled with the political reality of protracted crises, fragmented societies, and failed nation states, has engendered what has widely been labeled a lost generation. Dr. Mitri questioned whether this label is necessarily permanent, or rather points to a process that can be reversed. Highlighting the potential for collaboration and innovation between academic, nongovernmental, and political actors, Dr. Mitri affirmed the importance of pursuing this question through joined effort in order to reach a sustainable answer.
Drawing on his recent experience visiting Syrian refugee settlements across Lebanon, High Commissioner Filippo Grandi stressed that the nation-wide attempt to strike a delicate balance between sustained crisis and social coexistence speaks to the theme of the day and the humanitarian imperative of the time. Grandi underlined the global reach of the problem of forced displacement with statistical figures on the 66-67 million forcibly displaced. According to him, when it comes to combating crisis, a critical form of investment is political investment, which has so far been lacking in returns and in real impact. Despite the many challenges, youth were emphasized as critical interlocutors to invest in, for they hold the largest political, social, and economic potential for growth.
UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta H. Fore further emphasized the focus on future opportunities, particularly in light of the global youth bulge whereby 1.8 billion people between the ages of 10 and 24 constitute the largest cohort in the world today. By maximizing the accessibility of education, vocational training, workshops, and further avenues to acquire literacy, numeracy, and other key livelihood-sustaining skills, Executive Director Fore expressed UNICEF’s commitment to a crisis response that goes beyond being palliative, to encourage prosperity.
The presentations were followed by an animated discussion session on various topics including how best to bridge the gaps between displaced youth’s educational eligibility and enrolment; between their educational enrolment and completion; and the critical gap between educational and employment opportunities. Speakers and attendees alike addressed the various obstacles and opportunities present when working towards relief, recovery, and development. The dialogue extended beyond the 195 attendees, representing a spectrum of stakeholders from local Lebanese, to Syrian refugees, to International officials, and continuing online via live-streaming and on social media platforms such as Twitter where the #AUB4Refugees hashtag was the second-highest trending of the day in Lebanon.