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Diplomacy in Action

Engaging Youth: Palestinian Refugees in a Changing Middle East


Remarks
Ronan Farrow
Special Advisor, Office of Global Youth Issues
Opening Remarks
Brussels, Belgium
March 20, 2012

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Thank you so much, Sharine. I want to thank the Commissioner General - with whom I just had an excellent discussion about how we can move forward in partnership supporting (United Nations Relief and Works Agency) UNRWA's essential work in the region - and the Deputy Commissioner General, and especially all the donors and hosts at the table today. Your support in making this programming possible is essential. And I feel especially passionate in thanking the young Palestinian refugees that we have in the room, whose creative thinking is going to be so valuable in pushing forward toward all of our shared goals. It is obvious, talking to a group as potent as the young people we have on the floor today, just how vibrant the potential is for solutions if we can tap into and empower this demographic.

We've heard a lot over the last 24 hours about the challenges young Palestinians face - which are genuine and complex and can't be brushed aside. However, from my consultations with Palestinian youth, their optimism, passion, and strength are equally apparent. That's why it's so important to tap their energy for grassroots solutions and partner with them to help those solutions become a reality.

I recently returned from some time in Jerusalem and in the West Bank, talking to young people of all walks of life. I remember talking to a 15-year-old I met in an English language training program named Doha. She told me, “I am studying so I can see all sides of the issues, not just my own." That is an inspiring illustration for me of the potential that young people have for shaping a future that cuts through old enmities. And this does not at all diminish the depth of the challenges, but I do think there is a fresh perspective that the young people from this generation of new leaders in the Palestinian diaspora and refugee community bring. One thing that Doha, whom I just mentioned, told me, is exactly how important the kind of training she was doing is in building stepping stones towards economic opportunity. And how hard it is, in some of the places that we have discussed in this conference, to find those economic opportunities.

Those are challenges that are obviously not unique to the Palestinian people or to refugees. All around the world we're seeing young people stand up strong and demand two overarching things, however disparate the challenges. First, a voice in our communities and dignity. And second, a chance to have a legitimate livelihood to support ourselves.

That is the dynamic that we've seen all around the world and it's one that we know has tremendous potential for good. Young people like Doha, who are committed to cutting through old challenges with new solutions, represent some of the great champions of good governance and democracy in every region. Obviously, some of the revolutions of the last year give us great hope for the power of this generation in upsetting repressive regimes and in functioning as voices of conscience all around the world.

Similarly, on economic issues, young people very often are the backbone of recovery at a time when we need entrepreneurship and creativity to drive economic growth. But at the same time, there is that mismatch of expectation and opportunity - when young people have the training but not the jobs; when they grow up with a clear view to economic opportunities that they lack within their own borders. Through Facebook, through YouTube, through Twitter - they can see as never before what the governance, transparency, and employment looks like.

And for the youth majority all around the world - 90% of which is in developing countries - those dynamics can lead to a powder keg of frustration and a demographic that is among the ripest targets for recruitment by extremist elements or criminal groups. That's why the United States realized that we need to stand with young people, and partner with them to build solutions and to tap their positive potential: not just because it's the right thing, but because it's essential for all of our security and prosperity.

Looking at the group across this room, I see the way in which young Palestinians are a particular source of power and potential. The way in which, despite the tremendous and genuine challenges you face in many of your communities, you have built grassroots solutions. Yours is the kind of energy and creativity we will need to confront all of our shared 21st century challenges.

That 's also why UNRWA's programs are more essential now than ever. All the over the world, the United States has committed itself to programs which empower young people to find jobs and give them voices in their communities. Secretary Clinton recently delivered a speech in Tunisia outlining a global refocusing on youth. To that end, we're partnering directly with youth and providing platforms through which we can hear young people's voices. In every region, we now have Councils of young people steering programs and policies that traditionally may have been dictated from Washington. That's the kind of seat at the table that we envision for young people -- tapping them not just for solutions but for challenging conversations that can challenge our policies for the better.

Having just spoken to my colleagues at UNRWA, they know we envision the same future for UNRWA's activities -- with young people very much serving in a substantive role, helping to guide the activities and initiatives that are so important to empowering youth in this critical demographic. So that is one thing I look forward to discussing with each and every one of you. And the conversation that we have today is a beginning, not an end of that discussion.

That's also why I'm so pleased to be announcing today $10 million of new United States funding for the UNRWA general fund. We look forward, with UNRWA and with the other donors in the room, to ensuring those resources go directly towards giving people a seat at the table; towards giving them the tools so they can find employment, build solutions in their communities and have the critical education needed to be a force for change. That is as important work as any we undertake around the world.

So I am proud and excited to be here. I look forward to the conversation we'll have over the course of the day and I look forward to seeing UNRWA grapple with the challenges and tap into the very real positive potential. And in everything we do, we want to be consulting you, the young men and women at the heart of this, and inviting you to shape these initiatives. We also -- and I want to be concrete about this -- want to build networks of young people who participated in these programs that can continue to pay their skills forward and be a positive force for good.

That is difficult work and I look forward to it.

Thank you very much.



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