Five refugees who became DAFI scholars spoke of their challenges and aspirations during the TBHF-UNHCR event in Dubai recently Image Credit: Supplied

Dubai: Sharjah-based The Big Heart Foundation (TBHF) has made a contribution to UNHCR – the UN Refugee Agency – to sponsor 25 university scholarships for refugee students in Pakistan.

The announcement comes as UNHCR’s latest Education Report shows that only five per cent of refugees are enrolled in higher education, in comparison with 39 per cent among non-refugees.

UNHCR mentioned TBHF’s contribution towards the 25 new scholarships at a joint event in Dubai that brought together entities in support of higher education of refugee students.

The ‘Reshaping the Future of Refugee Youth’ event, held as part of the ‘Aiming Higher’ campaign, also heard from five refugee students sharing their success stories. The event was held at Dubai International Financial Centre in Dubai to raise awareness on the importance of tertiary education for refugee youth, in particular regarding UNHCR’s Refugee Scholarships Programme (DAFI).

Platform for scholars

A panel discussion moderated by the Syrian actress and UNHCR’s High Level Supporter Kinda Alloush provided a platform for the five DAFI scholars and refugee students to showcase their journey and reflect on the challenges they had to overcome to obtain a DAFI scholarship.

The event brought the students of multiple countries of origin such as Syria, South Sudan and Afghanistan among others, closer to achieve their goals.

Path to self-reliance

Houssam Chahine, UNHCR’s chief of Private Sector Partnerships in MENA, said: “We appreciate TBHF’s generosity and support, which will have great impact on the future of ambitious and bright refugee students.”

He added: “Our vision is to enable refugees to participate in education and employment and become not only self-reliant but vital contributors to their local economies, whether they remain at host communities or return to their home countries.”

UAE’s humanitarian message

Mariam Al Hammadi, director of TBHF, said: “Our Emirati culture has always been rooted in generosity and compassion, and helping those who are less fortunate comes to us naturally. It is this very spirit that drives TBHF to lead the altruistic efforts help spread the UAE’s humanitarian message to the world.”

She said the support and commitment of His Highness Dr Sheikh Sultan bin Muhammad Al Qasimi, Member of the Supreme Council and Ruler of Sharjah, and Sheikha Jawaher Al Qasimi, Wife of the Ruler of Sharjah and UNHCR’s Eminent Advocate, fuelled them to greater efforts in securing the future of refugee children and youth.

“TBHF is committed to ensuring that refugees not only have access to basic human necessities but also access to quality education that will allow them to live a life of dignity. Together with our international partner, UNHCR, we have developed a host of sustainable projects which have been providing access to education for refugee populations worldwide. We are proud to be associated with the DAFI programme, that underlines the critical importance of refugee education and seeks to redress the issue,” Al Hammadi added.

Impact of pandemic

Over the years, UNHCR said, it is becoming increasingly difficult for refugees to gain access to higher education, especially considering the COVID-19 pandemic and its economic implications.

UNHCR is working towards the ‘15by30’ target to ensure that 15 per cent of young refugee men and women have access to higher education by 2030, through programmes such as DAFI.

The “longest-running and largest standalone higher education scholarship programme for refugees”, DAFI has supported more than 18,500 young refugee women and men to pursue their undergraduate degrees over its 28-year history.