Shaikh Hasher Al Maktoum takes a tour after opening Dubai International Humanitarian Aid & Development Conference & Exhibition at Dubai World Trade Center Image Credit: Virendra Saklani/Gulf News

Dubai: The number of refugees and displaced people worldwide is growing to unprecedented levels, UNHCR officials warned at the Dubai International Humanitarian Aid and Development (DIHAD) Conference on Tuesday.

“Today the number of refugees under the mandate of the UNHCR [the UN Refugee Agency] is the highest maybe in the last 50 years — we have over 26 million refugees. And the number of displaced people, that brings the number of ‘people of concern’ to about 70 million people. This is the highest ever of our time and the highest ever witnessed,” said Amin Awad, director, Middle East and North Africa Bureau and Regional Refugee Coordinator, UNHCR.

DIHAD is held under the patronage of His Highness Shaikh Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai. It was officially inaugurated on Tuesday by Shaikh Hasher Bin Maktoum Al Maktoum, Director General of Dubai Department of Information.

‘Epicentre of largest crisis’

Awad said on behalf of Filippo Grandi, UN High Commissioner for Refugees, who visited Syria last week, that Syria has become the “epicentre of the largest refugee crisis in decades” because of the conflict there. Some 13 million people have been impacted inside Syria and another 5.5 million have become refugees in surrounding countries, he added.

A model of refugee tent by NRS International. Image Credit: Virendra Saklani/Gulf News

Awad said UNHCR is working closely with the government of Syria “to remove the obstacles for the return of refugees”, which should be “voluntary and not driven by political considerations. And considerable work is needed to create the conditions that will enable return and make it sustainable”.

‘People on the move’

Refugees and migrants are this year’s focus at DIHAD, with its current 16th edition being held under the theme of ‘People on the Move’.

Speaking during Tuesday’s opening session, Antonio Vitorino, Director-General, International Organisation for Migration, said: “During the early years of the Syrian conflict, the absence of strong support from the international community for neighbouring states such as Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey, reduced the ability of those countries to continue to host large numbers. Indeed, secondary movements to Europe were, in large part, a failure to act early enough with sufficient financial and material support.”

Vitorino added: “We should not make this mistake again. We must learn to identify, and effectively respond to, the needs of the vulnerable on the move — both refugees and migrants — in order to maintain the credibility of international systems of cooperation and governance.”

Humanitarian leader

Rashid Mubarak Al Mansouri, Deputy Secretary-General of Local Affairs, Emirates Red Crescent, who was speaking on behalf of Shaikh Hamdan Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the Ruler’s Representative in Al Dhafra Region and Chairman of the Emirates Red Crescent, said the UAE’s leadership has always exerted maximum efforts in the humanitarian field and international cooperation. For the fifth year in a row, the UAE is the world’s biggest humanitarian donor in terms of GDP, he added. The UAE-based NGO is looking to forge and strengthen partnerships in the humanitarian field at DIHAD.

Parallel exhibition

Running parallel to the conference, the DIHAD exhibition is featuring 640 participating entities with a number of NGOs, humanitarian governmental associations, and companies, showcasing their latest projects and services.

DIHAD is organised annually by INDEX Conferences and Exhibitions, a member of INDEX Holding.

Moment of silence for plane crash victims

Amin Awad, director, Middle East and North Africa Bureau and Regional Refugee Coordinator, UNHCR. addressed the opening session of the three-day conference on behalf of Filippo Grandi, UN High Commissioner for Refugees, who was scheduled to address DIHAD on Tuesday.

Grandi had arrived in the UAE for DIHAD but flew to Geneva to mourn the loss of his colleagues killed in an Ethiopian Airlines crash in Ethiopia on Sunday, following which 157 people died. Twenty one of them were UN staff members.

On Tuesday at DIHAD, a moment of silence was observed for the victims of the crash.