Lost generation: 500,000 Syrian refugee children still out of school

"A lot of the parents who live in refugee camps, whether in Syria or Lebanon, do not send their children to school after age 12 or 13, but send them to work," says an aid worker in Lebanon.

September 23, 2017 02:09
3 minute read.
syrian refugees

Syrian refugee children pose as they play near their families' residence at Al Zaatari refugee camp in the Jordanian city of Mafraq, near the border with Syria, January 30, 2016.. (photo credit: REUTERS)


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Millions of dollars in aid money that the international community pledged to get Syrian refugee children into school did not reach the children, arrived late or could not be traced because of poor reporting practices. That is the conclusion of a new report by Human Rights Watch which tracked the $1.4 billion pledged by the international community last year for education of Syrian refugee children.

Lebanon, Turkey, and Jordan are hosting the largest number of Syrian refugees. At least a million of the refugees are children, and many have not been in school for several years. At the conference in London last year, these countries pledged to enroll all Syrian refugee children in “quality education” by the end of the last school year.

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But as a new school year gets underway, an estimated 513,000 refugee children are not in school, and it is not clear what went wrong.

“We didn’t find any evidence of corruption although there may have been some somewhere,” Simon Rau, the Mercator Fellow, Children's Rights for Human Rights Watch told The Media Line. “The problem is the gap of transparency. It’s really hard to track that money.”

Rau was one of the authors of a new report by Human Rights Watch entitled “Prevent A Lost Generation of Syrian Children.”

There is a “lack of information about the projects donors are funding, and their timetables,” the report said. “Public fund-tracking reports, databases, and other mechanisms often lack enough information to assess whether the projects being funded addressed the key obstacles to education for Syrian children.”

When financial aid did arrive, it often came too late, after the school year had already begun, Rau said.

The situation is different in each country. In Turkey, for example, refugee families have to obtain special cards before enrolling their children in school. Many refugees are having difficulties getting these cards as they fled the fighting in Syria without some of the documents they need.

In Lebanon, which is hosting more than a million Syrian refugees, the situation is a little different. The Lebanese government has pledged that all children can enroll in public schools, straining the school system at times.

Because of the increase in enrollment, there are two shifts of school per day. That means that some children will be coming home from school well after dark.

“The teachers are exhausted from teaching two shifts,” Suha Tutunji, the Director of Education for the NGO Jusoor in Lebanon told The Media Line. “Many of the schools are quite a distance away, and parents don’t feel its safe for their children, especially girls, to walk.”

While school is free, she said, transportation is not covered and costs up to $20 per child per month, still a high sum for refugee families. There is some antagonism toward the refugees, she said, who are seen as taking jobs from local Lebanese. In some cases, teachers have made anti-refugee remarks in class.

In addition, she said, some Syrian parents choose not to send their children to school.

“A lot of the parents who live in refugee camps, whether in Syria or Lebanon, do not send their children to school after age 12 or 13, but send them to work,” Tutunji said. “Girls help their mothers and eventually get married.”

Another problem is that the primary language of instruction in public schools in Lebanon is either English or French, while most Syrian children speak and understand only Arabic. Until this year, Syrian children were enrolled in the afternoon session, where classes were taught in Arabic until fourth grade. That meant that Syrian refugee children were kept separate from Lebanese children.

Starting this year, Syrian children will also start to learn in English or French in first grade. She said that even though there has been an information campaign that public school is free, many parents still believe they have to pay.

An estimated 300,000 Syrian refugee children in Lebanon are still not in school.

“We are going to have a lost generation,” she said. “When the fighting ends, Syria is going to need doctors, teachers, engineers, scientists and physiotherapists. Who will do that if these children don’t go to school?”

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