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


Over the last few decades, the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) has witnessed an unprecedented level of violence and conflict, a situation escalated by the Arab Spring. The refugee and humanitarian situations of Syria, Iraq, Palestine, Yemen and Libya have had colossal social and economic consequences for the region as a whole.  The MENA region currently hosts the largest number of displaced persons across the globe, home to 16.8 million refugees and Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) (including 5.4 million Palestinian refugees); this number represents nearly 25% of a shocking 68.5 million displaced persons worldwide. 

The ongoing civil war in Syria now in its eighth year 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 that the civil war in Syria is nearing an end and hoping that regional stability will soon prevail, it will still inevitably bring with it a new wave of uncertainty. An uncertainty for refugees, their host countries and home countries. This panel will focus on opening dialogue around “What’s next for refugee youth?” Is it realistic to assume that after several years in exile that these 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 highlight three main perspectives: that of policy makers, host communities, and refugee youth. Only by bringing together these three angles, can we begin to have an honest, albeit intensely difficult conversation about the realities that refugee youth are likely to face over the coming years. The hope is that we discuss ways in which we can prepare for what will come next, and ensure that refugee youth do not become a lost generation of youth, forced only to bear an identity born by war.


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




Co-chair: Mohamed Abu Asaker       

Co-chair: Dahlia Maarouf


Audience participation
During this panel, we will request for audience participation. There are currently countless obstacles faced by both refugee youth and their host countries across the MENA region, and we understand that no two host communities are the same. However due to the breadth of this topic we would like harness the skills, knowledge and expertise of all involved to think of realistic and sustainable solutions for refugee youth over the coming years.

The topic for this panel is a vast and complex one, and as such, we would suggest that members of the audience who would like to contribute stay focused on the following themes;

  • Solutions moving forward: How can we better prepare refugee youth to rebuild their lives, homes and communities?
  • Refugee youth: With only 1% of refugees worldwide having access to higher education and the reality that there already exists a ‘lost generation’ of youth whose needs are not being addressed. Should the for example the Syrian war end in the near future, and these youth return, whether voluntarily or unwillingly, who will rebuild Syria?
  • Lesson learnt from the past: Can we learn from previous examples of mass forced migration in the region such as the Palestinian case?




Libya- Understanding the Contemporary and Future Politics  


“Is there a political future for Libya?” This is what the panel is about. The panel will discuss the contemporary political situation in Libya, the challenges, and opportunities for a better future for Libya. The Arab spring gave a hope to Arab youth for a prosperous, democratic and resilient future of their countries based on equality, es, freedom and a dignified life.  

Brief of the situation

Eight years after Gadafi’s regime revolt, Libya yet remains a battleground for many political factions and militias with ambiguous future. Since the Libyan revolution in February 2011, the economic, political and security levels keep deteriorating. –and the whole Libyan nation is divided under control of one UN-backed government in the west and another one under Khalifa Haftar’s one in the East. Both governments claiming legitimacy to control and govern the country.

Haftar’s forces announced recently its offensive to “purge the south of terrorists and criminal groups”.  South of Libya is also under a struggle between Libya’s minority, Tubu community and Arab tribes, particularly over control of lucrative cross-border smuggling routes.

The economic situation is gloomy as well. According to the World Bank records, inflation rates are at an all-time high resulting in a loss of confidence of the banking system as a result a liquidity crisis which increased the poverty levels and exacerbated the socio-economic exclusion. “Since 2017, inflation accelerated, exacerbating further hardship of the population. Prices of all commodities continued to increase, mainly driven by acute shortages in the supply chains of basic commodities, speculation in the expanding black markets, and the strong devaluation of the Libyan dinar (LYD) in the parallel markets. Consequently, inflation hit a record level of 28.4% in 2017 following the 25.9% in 2016”.

Areas of discussion

  • Why Libya is geo-politically important?
  • What is the current scene of the political situation in Libya?
  • Who is responsible for the current situation?
  • What are the main reason for the failure of every government?
  • Why the new leadership couldn’t have a safe transition?
  • Is the region heading back to military rule?
  • What is the role of the International community in stabilizing the situation?
  • Why Libya became a corridor for migrations to Europe?
  • What is your expectation for the political future?

Date Time

Saturday April 6th, 2019

11:00 am – 12:40 PM

Harvard Yard – Emerson Hall – 105




Co-chair: Mohamed Abu Asaker       

Co-chair: Zeid El-Basyouni 





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.




Arab American and Arab Identity

The ‘Arab’ identity label in the US is broad. It is used to identify immigrants, 1st generation & 2nd generation Arabs, and general persons with Arab heritage. This broad identification doesn’t consider the vast differences between many Arab Americans and Arabs in American”. 

We will bring together a mosaic of Arab-in-America and Arab-American narratives to highlight the commonalities between Arab experiences while bringing to light the different personal challenges each has faced. We will consider what Arab values can co-exist with American values, and reflect on the topic of Arab assimilation vs integration in American society. Other questions we will consider are how we can preserve our language, identity and culture while progressing in the West? What are the generational challenges between Arab parents raining their children in the US? How and why are Middle Easterners succeeding in the United States? And finally, how can we empower the Arab-American and Arab community in the US?





Undocumented citizens in the Arab world

After the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, many countries emerged to fill that void. These countries naturalized the people who were living at their geographic boundary leaving many stateless due to improper documentations. From the Stateless in Gulf countries to the people of Western-Sahara, all citizens were denied legends and lawful citizens. This panel is trying to raise the awareness of these minorities and try to showcase their struggles.




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.