UNICEF Appoints 19-Year-Old Syrian Refugee as Goodwill Ambassador

Syrian refugee and education activist Muzoon Almellehan hands out UNICEF school kits to students of a Koranic School, where UNICEF is currently studying the feasibility to strengthen the capacity of Koranic Schools, in in N’Djamena, Chad, Saturday 22 April 2017.
Syrian refugee and education activist Muzoon Almellehan hands out UNICEF school kits to students of a Koranic School, where UNICEF is currently studying the feasibility to strengthen the capacity of Koranic Schools, in in N’Djamena, Chad, Saturday 22 April 2017.

UNICEF announced Monday, on the eve of World Refugee Day, the appointment of Muzoon Almellehan, a 19-year-old education activist and Syrian refugee, as its newest – and youngest – Goodwill Ambassador. The appointment makes Muzoon the first person with official refugee status to become an Ambassador for UNICEF.

Muzoon, who received support from UNICEF while living in Za’atari refugee camp in Jordan, follows in the footsteps of the late Audrey Hepburn, a Goodwill Ambassador who was also supported by UNICEF as a child.

“Even as a child, I knew that education was the key to my future, so when I fled Syria, the only belongings I took with me were my school books,” said Muzoon.

“As a refugee, I saw what happens when children are forced into early marriage or manual labor – they lose out on education and they lose out on possibilities for the future. That’s why I am proud to be working with UNICEF to help give these children a voice and to get them into school.”

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Muzoon fled the conflict in Syria along with her family in 2013, living as refugee for three years in Jordan before being resettled in the United Kingdom. It was during her 18 months in the Za’atari camp that she began advocating for children’s access to education, particularly for girls.

“Muzoon’s story of bravery and fortitude inspires us all. We are very proud she will now become an Ambassador for UNICEF and children around the world,” said UNICEF Deputy Executive Director Justin Forsyth.

An estimated 25 million children of primary and secondary school are out of school in conflict zones. For children living as refugees, only half are enrolled in primary school and less than a quarter are enrolled in secondary school.

According to UNICEF, education in emergencies is severely underfunded. Since 2010, less than 2 per cent of humanitarian funding has been spent on education and $8.5 billion are needed annually to close this gap.

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Rakesh Raman