UNHCR unveils ‘Refugee Zakat Fund’ to help displaced populations worldwide

The Muslim world has the potential to transform philanthropy through strategic targeting of tens of billions of dollars of obligatory alms, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, UNHCR, announced at an event attended by officials, ambassadors and specialists, to launch its ‘Refugee Zakat Fund’.

The fund transforms UNHCR’s existing Zakat programme into a global fund to help the most vulnerable as reported by the Emirates News Agency.

During the Refugee Zakat Fund launch today, UNHCR also unveiled the UNHCR Zakat Programme: 2019 Launch Report..

The report showed that UNHCR’s Zakat programme globally received US$14.4 million from 2016 to 2018, directly assisting 6,888 displaced families, primarily Syrian refugees in Jordan and Lebanon. The report shows that the global Zakat giving stands at $76 billion worldwide, and could potentially reach as high as $356 billion, if proper mechanisms are in place.

Zakat is the obligatory alms given annually by Muslims who meet the necessary criteria of wealth each year.

UNHCR has pioneered the leveraging of Zakat and established its Zakat programme to aid the most vulnerable displaced families. The decision to restructure the Zakat programme into the global Refugee Zakat Fund is due to the high donor turnout UNHCR has witnessed in the past years.

The fund will allow individuals and institutions alike to fulfil their Zakat obligations efficiently through a globally trusted structure, governed by UNHCR, with 100 percent of contributions delivered directly to the most vulnerable refugees and internally displaced families. It is fully Sharia-compliant; backed by fatwas from leading Islamic scholars and institutions, and subject to strict governance, ensuring utmost transparency. UNHCR aims thereby to bridge its required funding of $208.6 million for some 154,740 of the most vulnerable displaced families.

“Over the past few years, UNHCR has seen the demand for a trusted and efficient way of fulfilling Zakat obligations, while making an impact on the lives of some of the most vulnerable populations in the world,” said Houssam Chahine, UNHCR’s Head of Private Sector Partnerships in the MENA region.

“With Islamic finance becoming a prominent part of the global economy, we are launching our first annual Zakat report today on the occasion of the Year of Tolerance from Dubai, the capital of Islamic economy. It was inevitable for our Zakat programme to evolve into a structure that better appeals to the global Islamic finance industry. The fund allows UNHCR to be even more transparent and trusted in how it receives and distributes Zakat funds.” he added.

“Zakat has the potential to release tens of billions of dollars into global philanthropic causes and humanitarian needs, inaugural UNHCR report reveals,” said Rafi-uddin Shikoh, CEO and Managing Director at DinarStandard. “Muslim obligatory charitable contributions might be just the solution to address UNHCR’s funding gap given that 60% out of the 68.5 million of forcibly displaced people worldwide (around 40.8 million people) are Zakat-eligible,” he added.

While the fund was unveiled just before the Holy Month of Ramadan, traditionally a month of giving and charity for Muslims around the world, UNHCR’s Chahine was keen to emphasise that Zakat obligations can also be fulfilled all year round.

Commenting on UNHCR’s Zakat programme, Dr. Irfan Syauqi Beik, Executive Secretary of World Zakat Forum, noted, “The UNHCR Zakat programme’s role is to guarantee the basic needs of refugees. A partnership between UNHCR and the World Zakat Forum can be developed in three major areas: capacity building, enhancing Zakat distribution dedicated to refugees, and Zakat advocacy campaigns.”

The budget required by UNHCR in 2019 is US$7.9 billion, to respond to the overall needs of refugees and internally displaced and other people of concern around the world.

WAM/Rola Alghoul/Nour Salman

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