A Future in the Balance: How the conflict in Syria is impacting on the needs, concerns and aspirations of young people across the Middle East

from Norwegian Refugee Council
Published on 20 Apr 2016

Entire Middle East youth’s future in the balance unless urgent measures are taken

An entire generation of young people in the Middle East faces unprecedented challenges in an environment of insecurity and poverty, risking losing their untapped potential to hopelessness.

Research published today by the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC), carried out among displaced and local youth across Syria's neighbouring countries, shows how a lack of opportunities, harassment, exploitation, discrimination and movement restrictions dominate the lives of young people, with too little help available from the authorities and humanitarian agencies responding to the ongoing crises.

Young refugees from Syria face the greatest challenges with hundreds of thousands forced to live without valid legal documents. Youth from refugee-hosting countries are also struggling to survive due to the immense local pressures exacerbated by the crises. Youth in the wider region experience the highest rates of unemployment in the world, according to the International Labour Organisation. From Syria to Iraq, Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey, the future of the region's youth, and thus the region itself, hangs in the balance.

"What we found should not be surprising, but if ignored, the consequences would be shocking," said Martin Hartberg, who heads NRC's regional advocacy and protection work in the Middle East. "An entire generation of displaced and local youth across the region is quickly losing all hope in the future. Trapped in a protracted crisis, young people are facing increasing barriers to education and economic opportunities with minimal chances to engage in social and civic life. They are being pushed further into the shadows and feel disempowered and frustrated. We all risk losing the vast human capital of this generation."

The study, A Future in the Balance, drew on the experiences of over 500 youth in Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey and Iraq through focus group discussions and in-depth interviews. The research was conducted together with the Information and Research Centre – King Hussein Foundation (IRC-KHF) and the International Blue Crescent Relief and Development Foundation (IBC). The prevailing concerns of youth across the region showed widespread loss of hope in the future and readiness to take the risky route to Europe in search of a better life.

"Back in Syria, we used to think about the future," a 17-year-old Syrian refugee in Turkey told NRC. "We used to think about being doctors or teachers. Now all we think about is how to feed our families. We're carrying a heavy load on our shoulders. It's beyond our age."

In spite of all the challenges and countering the often negative portrayal of young people as potential trouble makers, the vast majority of youth interviewed are desperately trying to fulfil their potential and contribute to their communities.

"My dream is to return to Syria and rebuild my country," as 17-year-old female refugee in Jordan told NRC.

"We owe it to the entire region to ensure young people have a future, that their dreams are not dashed by violence, poverty and the failed policies that keep letting them down," Hartberg said. "There is an immediate need to invest across the board to ensure that the youth of the Middle East are supported to live up to their vast potential. They will be instrumental in rebuilding and reshaping the region in the years to come.”

In the report, NRC makes specific recommendations to host governments, aid agencies and international donors for urgent measures that would help to reverse the depressing wave of hopelessness gripping the youth in the region. Aid agencies and donors need to prioritise youth programmes, which are often neglected and under-funded, while countries hosting refugees need to adopt enabling policies that would allow local and young people to flourish. International donor governments need to step up their support for Syria's neighbouring countries, scaling up education funding and helping to create economic opportunities for youth.

Notes to editors:

  • NRC has multimedia materials from across the region, including filmed interviews with young people, B-roll, photos, case studies and first person narratives, for free distribution to the press.
  • We have spokespersons in the region available for media interviews.
  • Media officers in Lebanon, Jordan and Iraq are available to help with press trips and meeting young refugees, displaced and local youth for further interviews.