My Forced Identity: What’s next for Syrian refugee youth in the Middle East?


Over the last seven years, since the Arab Spring the Middle East has witnessed an unprecedented level of violence and conflict. One of the most brutal and vicious conflicts the region has seen is the ongoing civil war in Syria which is now in approaching its eighth year. The conflict in Syria has generated the biggest humanitarian crisis since the Second World War. Hundreds of thousands of people have been killed and over 10.9 million have been forced to leave their homes in fear of their safety. Neighboring countries have absorbed a huge influx of Syrian refugees since the start of the conflict- Lebanon, Turkey and Jordan absorbed 4.8 million refugees alone. Moreover, Lebanon currently hosts the highest number of refugees per capita worldwide; home to over one million registered refugees- one in four people is a refugee.


With many predicting and hoping that the civil war in Syria is nearing an end, it will inevitably bring with it a new wave of uncertainty. This panel will focus on opening dialogue around this and focusing specifically on “What’s next for Syrian refugee youth?” The hope is that we discuss ways in which we can prepare for what will come next, and ensure that Syrian refugee youth do not become a lost generation of youth, forced only to bear an identity born by war.

Approximately 2.5 million Syrian children are registered as refugees in the five neighboring host countries Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq and Egypt. For an average eighteen your old Syrian refugee, whom had fled the conflict when they were eleven years old, would have spent the majority of his/her adolescent years living in exile. Is it realistic to assume that after seven years in exile that such young adults would want to return to home? If so, what would their future look like, not only for themselves but also for their families and communities? If repatriation becomes the only solution what would “return” look like? Are we looking at the very real possibility of forced return?

The panel will endeavor to open the dialogue around such questions and highlight three main perspectives that of policy makers, host communities, and Syrian refugee youth. As only by bringing together these three angles, can we begin to have an honest, albeit intensely difficult conversation about the realities that Syrian refugee youth are likely to face over the coming years, as well as the ramifications for the region as a whole.


  1. Current context: To highlight the Syrian refugee crisis and main obstacles currently faced from three main perspectives that of policy makers, host communities, and Syrian refugee youth (something about difficult).
  2. Anticipated obstacles: To provide anticipated critical obstacles envisaged by policy makers, host communities and Syrian refugee youth when the war ends.
  3. Suggested solutions: To suggest prioritized solutions from all three perspectives and how they envisage these solutions moving forward in the current context.


Mr. Hani Shehada

Communication and Youth Development Specialist at Education Above All


Palestinians of ’48

In 1948, the creation of the State of Israel was, in part, made possible through the calibration of the indigenous Palestinian population in relation to the Jewish, colonizer population. This focus on the number of physical Palestinian bodies in comparison to physical Jewish bodies worked to establish the symbolic framework which would come to define both the Zionist project and the Palestinian liberation struggle. Palestinians were transferred using land acquisition measures and through the immigration of a critical mass of Jewish people to Palestine. Immigration between 1918 and 1947 was so drastic that the ratio of Jewish settlers to Palestinians increased from one in ten to one in two. The 1948 war saw the expulsion of 725,000 Palestinians. Their expulsion was achieved at the hands of Jewish attackers who targeted Arab centers and was part of a larger project whose goal was to deliberately expel the majority of Palestinians from what is now known as Israel. The intentionality behind this plan is undergirded by statements made by the Ben-Gurion appointed transfer committee, which issued a recommendation that “Arabs’ should make up no more than 15 percent of Israel’s total population.” Today, the percentage of Palestinian Citizens of Israel has remained close to this initial prescription and stands at around 20 percent. 

In addition to this demographic regulation, Israel, through its laws and national documents, has codified its national character as one that is concerned and defined by a Jewish versus non-Jewish dichotomy. Its 1948 Declaration of Independence defined Israel as the Jewish state established by and for the Jewish people . The intricacies of this proclamation manifested themselves in a series of laws. The Law of Return, which states that any Jewish person, only by the virtue of being Jewish, is entitled to Israeli citizenship. The Nationality Law, on the other hand, asserts that non-Jewish individuals, even if they are born in the state of Israel (unless they are the children of non-Jewish Israeli citizens) are not entitled to Israeli citizenship. More recently, the Nation-State law, passed in July of 2018 declared that the only group of people with a right to self-determination in Israel are Jews. It also removed Arabic as an official language of the state. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stood in defense of the law asserting its necessity in order to “fend off Palestinian challenges to Jewish self-determination.”  

This panel will be centered on this weaponization of identity by the Israelis and the focus on physical bodies and demographics in creating the State of Israel and maintaining its character as a Jewish state. Specifically, it hopes, through a legal, activist, and academic perspective, to interrogate identity through the experiences of Palestinians Citizens of Israel and the ways in which they have come to understand their Palestinian identity and their place in the Palestinian liberation struggle.


Amahl Bishara: Associate Professor at Tufts University working on the relationship between Palestinians in Israel and in the West Bank Majd Kayyal: Activist and novelist based in Haifa, Israel  Sandra Tamari: Acting director of Adalah Justice Project (AJP)



Libya – Current and Future

The panel will discuss the current situation in Libya with relation to refugees and internally displaced people context and how to move forward in meaningful ways toward a more prosperous future.




                                                                                                      Moderator and Co-chair: Mohamed Asaker             



Sexual Violence in the Middle East

Sexual violence affects everyone: refugees, ethnic minorities, LGBTQ individuals, and the privileged alike. Considered a taboo in the Arab World, sexual violence persists in many spaces, both unexpected and the familiar — as a secret within families and as a crime against humanity in war.

Yet, the lack of discussion and education around sexual violence in our communities exacerbates the problem further, often leaving survivors feeling lonely, even guilty. This panel will bring together pioneering therapists and activists to discuss sexual violence in the Arab World, both at home and in displacement, to unpack the struggle at hand and present current efforts to bring healing and justice.