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THE ROLE OF ISLAMIC PHILANTHROPY IN SUPPORTING REFUGEES DURING THE COVID-19 PANDEMIC

HAF Programs Assistant

 Caption: BORGEN Magazine is an initiative of The Borgen Project.

“To save lives, stay at home!”

These words are an injunction to avoid the worst of the health crisis. It was the necessary collective response to the outbreak of a virus whose human-to-human transmission caused the first pandemic of the 21st century.

In this crucial period, one wonders if humanity is worth more than material possessions and profit.

Morocco is one of the African countries most affected by immigration. Refugees require added considerations including legal aid and financial assistance — these needs are heightened in a time of crisis such as a pandemic.

In this context, the High Atlas Foundation has partnered with the Faculty of Economic and Social Legal Sciences at University Sidi Mohamed Ben Abdellah in Fes to launch a legal clinic to benefit the general population. The clinic promotes access to justice by providing free legal aid to refugees, among other vulnerable communities in the Fes-Meknes region.

The impact of the pandemic is worse for migrants and refugees

No matter who we are, the pandemic has come to impact our way of thinking and functioning. It invites us to examine our true nature. How can we face the challenges to come if not by refusing the old way of doing things and opening our hearts?

The COVID-19 pandemic has been a disaster for humanity and people from all walks of life, but it has been an absolute catastrophe for the world’s most vulnerable: migrants, people seeking asylum, and refugees.

Almost 34,000 refugees per day are exposed to acts of violence, loss of culture, and family separation. The COVID-19 pandemic is a new threat that could prove to be more devastating than the events forcing them to flee their homelands.

The situation in Africa is daunting with 6,348,744 refugees recorded in 2019, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. Simultaneously, this pandemic is hitting the continent at a time when it is facing an alimentation crisis of exceptional proportions.

Caption: The UN Refugee Agency is a global organization dedicated to saving lives and protecting the rights of refugees

It’s hard to imagine coping with the virus with no access to basic needs, and this is the tragic reality for far too many refugees and displaced families around the world. They face immense amounts of fear when being forced to leave their hometowns by war or other unlivable conditions. Once they arrive, there’s no hope of isolating because of overcrowded conditions and no shelter to stay safely inside.

Caption: The UN Refugee Agency is a global organization dedicated to saving lives and protecting the rights of refugees

Furthermore, preventative measures to avoid illness are often not possible. Many refugees and migrants lack funds to provide for themselves beyond their most basic needs and are forced to work under less than ideal conditions in order to make ends meet. How can we ask them to choose between starvation while being confined to their homes or risking their health in order to earn a wage?

How can we ask people in such situations to protect themselves when they do not have access to basic hygiene materials? Or to self-isolate when they live in one place with multiple individuals?

The pandemic is challenging us to ask these difficult questions whose answers reveal a global health system that lacks any sign of humanity. It is necessary to unite citizens and the state to overcome this crisis that has affected all levels of society.

The intervention of humanist values (Islamic philanthropy): protecting the world’s most vulnerable people

Caption: Individuals and institutions must work together to aid refugees during the current global crisis. Photo by Everplan

A way to move through this crisis is through the generosity of others.

Islamic philanthropy (IP), also called Islamic social finance, refers to zakat. It is a pillar of Islam that presents itself in the form of financial mechanisms such as donations or investments that fight poverty and foster socio-economic development.

Whether it is a monetary contribution, a gift of food, or psychological support, there is nothing more honorable than helping others. “Zakat is not just a fundamental pillar of Islam. It is also a revolutionary concept with the potential to ease the suffering of millions around the world.”

The current crisis requires wealthier individuals and institutions to put their hands in their pockets. Civil society and government must bring solidarity and humanity to the forefront in order to weather this pandemic.

The UNHCR revealed that they have recorded “over 1 million Zakat beneficiaries through the Refugee Zakat Fund” amid the COVID-19 emergency. This shows the generosity that has come about as a result of Islamic Philanthropy, as well as the potential for change.

To assist refugee families and individuals who are experiencing income loss due to enforced quarantines, cash assistance programs have been put in place as well.

As Allah (SWT) tells us in the Holy Qur’an: “And be steadfast in prayer and regular in charity: And whatever good ye send forth for your souls before you, ye shall find it with Allah” (Qur’an 2:110). In this spirit, to avoid irreversible damage, every member of society must continue to contribute and share responsibility in order to protect those who are most vulnerable.

This is a historical crisis that must challenge our economic and political systems. The time has come for the return of humanist values.

The role of the legal clinic in assisting refugees

The Legal Clinic is a non-profit organization run by student volunteers from the Department of Legal Science at University Sidi Mohamed Ben Abdellah in partnership with the High Atlas Foundation. It is funded by the National Endowment for Democracy and the US-Middle East Partnership Initiative (MEPI).

Its role is crucial in a society that welcomes refugees and asylum seekers. Law students are trained to aid displaced persons in all matters related to their settlement, including but not limited to citizenship, employability, and security.

During this difficult time, refugees will benefit not only from financial aid, but also from legal counsel, thus facilitating the continuation of their lives by providing them with opportunities for work and integration into society.

The role of the foundation is to promote the humanist aspect of this global refugee crisis, committing the society to exploit its human, natural and material resources to support those who are most vulnerable.

Let us detach ourselves from egoism and commit ourselves solidly against this virus.

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