UN translators in New York raise funds for Syrian refugees

Making a Difference, 20 September 2012

© UNHCR
Members of the UN Arabic Translation Service who helped raise funds for Syrian refugees pose for a photograph with UNHCR staff in New York.

NEW YORK, United States, September 19 (UNHCR) Alarmed by the growing humanitarian crisis in the Middle East, Arabic translators at the United Nations headquarters in New York have raised US$12,700 for UNHCR's emergency operation for tens of thousands of displaced Syrians.

"This is a real achievement. This significant contribution will make a difference in the lives of numerous Syrian refugees who are in dire need of protection and assistance," said Udo Janz, director of UNHCR's liaison office in New York.

The situation in Syria is a major global concern of the UN Secretariat in New York, where documents and reports are prepared daily on the humanitarian and political crisis in the Middle East country. These keep the translators very busy as well as focused and informed on the subject.

Staff from the UN's Arabic Translation Service were so moved by what they were reading and hearing that they decided to do something to help. In only three days, they managed to collect US$12,700. They recently handed over a cheque to Janz at UNHCR's liaison office.

"We had been thinking about doing something for quite a time," said one translator, Nahla Baydoun, who has worked in New York for four years but originates from the Lebanon. "After the first colleagues began to put money together, others quickly followed with significant contributions. It was an informal process and we were very positively surprised by the impact of our initiative."

A colleague of hers, Bassel Tabbah, said most of the translators had links with the Middle East. "The situation in and around Syria affects us personally as we have family and friends over there," he explained. "But this is not a regional issue for us, it's a human issue. It is about alleviating human suffering. It is a strictly humanitarian initiative, not a political one," he stressed.

The translators said they hoped to do more to help alleviate the suffering of the refugees and were looking at ways to mobilize colleagues in other services and beyond.

Established in 1973, the Arabic Translation Service comprises some 60 translators from Burkina Faso, Egypt, Lebanon, Libya, Morocco, Palestine, Senegal, the Sudan, Syria, Tunisia and the United States.

The number of Syrian refugees in neighbouring countries has recently passed the 260,000 mark, including more than 100,000 who fled escalated fighting in Syria in August. Hundreds of thousands are displaced within Syria.

UNHCR, as the lead organization for the Syria regional response programme for refugees, appealed in June for US$193 million to provide protection, assistance to 185,000 refugees until the end of the year. However a fresh appeal is expected soon in light of the dramatic rise in the number of people fleeing to neighbouring countries since June.

By Hugues van Brabandt in New York, United States