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oPt: Refugee Stories - EC-funded UNRWA project reduces refugee youth unemployment in Syria

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Syria, October 2008 - It is only 9 am of a mild Wednesday morning in Sbeineh refugee camp but the activity inside the tiny provisional office of the Employment and Vocational Education project, run by UNRWA, is incessant.

Fatima, a timid 25 year old Palestinian refugee from a nearby camp, is about to start her meeting with an employment guidance officer.

"I am confident this will provide me with what I am looking for", she says, with an enthusiastic smile, before entering the interview room. The line of interviewees, that she leaves waiting in the corridor, grows longer by the minute.

The Employment and Vocational Education project provides young Palestine refugees with access to information about specific jobs and encourages individuals to explore and improve their skills.

The project has proved increasingly popular, with over 1,200 people registering between January and August 2008. Moreover, 43% of the total number of job seekers registered in the employment offices are women.

Fatima contacted the project after hearing success stories from neighbours, friends and school mates. Since 2007, 58.9% of the people registered with the Employment Guidance Offices have secured job interviews and 27.5% have received a job offer.

By the joy on her face as she leaves the interview room, it is clear that Fatima has found what she was looking for. "En sha allah, I will be able to change my future" she says, full of hope, following her vocational coaching session.

Life in the camps can be hard for many who, like Fatima, are young and jobless.

According to recent statistics, over 50% of the Palestine refugees living in Syrian camps are under 25 years of age. The rate of unemployment in the camps is more than double that of the average rate in Syria.

The lack of opportunity available within refugee camps for young people is a major cause of this employment gaps; with young people facing difficulties in promoting themselves in the country's labour market and successfully matching their skills with available jobs.

In order to address this issue UNRWA launched its Employment and Vocational Education project. Thanks to funding from the EC, five Employment Guidance Offices have been established in refugee camps across Syria since 2006.

The project has successfully helped Palestine refugees into jobs in a number of fields, most commonly as accountants, electricians and medical staff. Job seekers also attain new job skills at the Damascus Training Center, which runs a wide range of courses.

For young Palestine refugees in Syria the prospect of a job is not just mere employment; it constitutes a source of hope, confidence and purpose.

"There is nothing worse than seeing young people sitting idle, feeling frustrated, depressed and vulnerable." Panos Moumtzis, Director of UNRWA's Syria office explains. "This project offers hope and direction to young people feeling hopeless. It does not take a lot to restore their self-confidence and make them feel valuable members of society."

Text and photos by Diego Gomez-Pickering