Syrian refugee students in Saadnayel, Lebanon. From this Ramadan, Muslims will get a global platform under the UNHCR to channel their obligatory alms for refugees and the displaced. Image Credit: AP

Dubai: From this Ramadan, Muslims across the world will have a global platform under the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to channel their obligatory alms, or zakat, for the refugee and displaced families from Syria, Iraq, and Yemen.

The UNHCR on Thursday announced the launch of its Refugee Zakat Fund, a new global structure that transforms its three-year-old zakat programme into a global fund.

Aimed at aiding the most vulnerable displaced populations, the fund accepts contributions all year round through the site

The UN agency also unveiled its “UNHCR Zakat Program: 2019 Launch Report”, developed in partnership with DinarStandard, a growth strategy research and advisory firm and the co-authors of the report, during the Refugee Zakat Fund launch in Dubai.

Houssam Chahine, UNHCR’s head of private sector partnerships, MENA, (Centre) speaks at the launch of the UNHCR Refugee Zakat Fund in Dubai. Image Credit: Supplied

“Every two seconds, we have a refugee,” said Houssam Chahine, UNHCR’s head of private sector partnerships, MENA.

For the past 70 years, he said, UNHCR has helped 68 million displaced people. “Refugees in Yemen, Lebanon, Jordan and Egypt need urgent assistance for food, water, health care and shelter,” he said.

Billion dollar budget

The budget required by UNHCR in 2019 is $7.9 billion (Dh29 billion), to respond to the overall needs of refugees and internally displaced and other people of concern around the world.

Almost 155,000 refugee families are in need of UNHCR’s cash-based assistance which requires a funding of $208.6 million this year.

“We are aiming, at least in the coming months, to channel lifesaving support to 24,000 of the most vulnerable refugee and displaced families,” said Chahine.

“Ramadan is an important time for refugees, and this year we are launching a major campaign globally to encourage Muslims to remember refugees in their prayers, and remember them with their zakat. However, the Refugee Zakat Fund accepts contributions all year round,” he said, while recommending Islamic financial institutions, other organisations and individuals to provide alms to refugees.

He pointed out that refugees are eligible to receive zakat as they fall under at least four of the eight zakat categories mentioned in the Quran.

UNHCR’s zakat initiative is fully Sharia-compliant and is backed by five fatwas, authorising the collection of zakat funds to be delivered to eligible refugees under rigorous stipulations. “100 per cent of your zakat goes directly to eligible refugees,” Chahine said.

The report said UNHCR’s zakat programme globally received $14.4 million from 2016 to 2018, directly assisting 6,888 displaced families, primarily Syrian refugees in Jordan and Lebanon.

How it works

Chahine noted that only up to 30 per cent refugees are in camps and the rest are in urban situations.

Refugees eligible to register for the UNHCR fund can withdraw zakat allotted to them every month until they are out of the crisis and go back to their native places. In countries without ATM facilities, partner banks help UNHCR verify the identities of the refugees receiving zakat by scanning their iris, Chahine explained.

“We have surveys that show where the money is spent by the beneficiaries.”

For example, refugee families in Jordan spend the most on rent, followed by food, health care and finally on debt repayment.

In addition, the report shows that the global zakat giving stands at $76 billion and could potentially reach an amount as high as $356 billion, if proper mechanisms are in place for Muslims to safely fulfil their zakat obligations.

Through online bank transfers and digital payments, UNHCR is bringing zakat provision into the modern era. The site also helps donors calculate their zakat and know how that money can impact the lives of refugees.

And hence, UNHCR Fund meets the main challenges like transparency and reporting of zakat, said Rafi-uddin Shikoh, CEO and managing director at DinarStandard.

Zakat has the potential to release tens of billions of dollars into global philanthropic causes and humanitarian needs, the inaugural UNHCR report reveals. Muslim obligatory charitable contributions might be just the solution to address UNHCR’s funding gap, given that 60 per cent out of the 68.5 million of forcibly displaced people worldwide (around 40.8 million people) are Zakat-eligible.” he added.

How to remember refugees with your zakat

■ Visit

■ Choose your zakat destination, supported currency and amount

■ Fill in the fields with your details and click on “Dedicate your Zakat”

■ Alternately, for bank transfer donations, use the accounts given on the next page of the site.

■ Notify UNHCR at when the bank transfer is done