Monday

27th May 2019

Opinion

European donors help Syrian school children

  • No parent should be forced to choose between an education for their children and returning to a war zone (Photo: EU/ECHO/Abdurrahman Antakyali)

For Racha, a 30 year-old Syrian refugee in Lebanon, €30 per month is the difference between putting her three children in school and watching them grow up without an education.

“This year, I was able to register them but couldn’t afford the transportation fee,” she told me. Her 6-year-old daughter, Dana, cries because she’s not going to school, Racha said. “I’m alive, their dad is gone. I don’t want them to lose out.”

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 18 year's of archives. 30 days free trial.

... or join as a group

Lebanon, a small country of about 4.5 million citizens, has taken on an enormous burden, hosting 1.1 million registered Syrian refugees. The government estimates the total, including unregistered Syrians, is 1.5 million.

Racha’s children are among the more than 250,000 school-age Syrians there who are out of school. With international assistance, the education ministry has opened public schools to Syrian refugees, and 158,000 enrolled last year. The ministry estimates another 87,000 are in private schools.

But five years into the war in Syria, the number of refugee children still out of school is an immediate crisis.

My research for Human Rights Watch found that donor support, and pressure, are needed to eliminate barriers that are still keeping children out of school. As leading donors, the European Commission and European Union member states have a critical role to play for children’s fundamental right to an education, Lebanon’s stability, and Syria’s future.

Lebanon needs sustained and targeted support to prevent a generation of Syrian children from growing up without an education. International donors paid €240.9 million for education in 2015 as part of the Lebanon Crisis Response Plan, including €327 for every Syrian student in regular, “morning shift” classes and €541 per child in the “afternoon shift” added to accommodate Syrian students.

But even before the refugee crisis, the public school system in Lebanon struggled; the parents of only 30 percent of children chose to send them to public schools. Now, the nearly 500,000 school-age Syrian children in Lebanon are almost double the number of Lebanese children in public schools.

With more than 70 percent of Syrian families in Lebanon living below the poverty line, subsidized transportation is needed to get more children into school.

But enrolling children is only the first step - providing a quality education is key to preventing dropouts. Syrian children need trained teachers, mental health support, and accelerated programs to teach English and French, the unfamiliar languages of instruction in Lebanon.

With humanitarian assistance focused on basic education, some children have been left behind. Parents of children with disabilities told me they were turned away from public schools - or marginalised in the classroom.

Secondary-school age children face increased pressure to work and support their families, coupled with tightened restrictions on freedom of movement, and greater distances to schools. Just 3 percent of Syrian children aged 15 to 18 are enrolled in Lebanon’s public secondary schools.

But international assistance for education will only go so far. Lebanon also needs to make common-sense policy changes to ensure that refugees’ living conditions allow them to keep their children in school.

European donors should encourage Lebanon to reform a flawed residency policy that sets high and expensive barriers for Syrians to maintain legal status, with serious consequences for children’s education. An estimated two-thirds of Syrians have lost their legal status since the introduction of the new regulations in January 2015.

Without legal residency, refugees are unable to move within the country or find work without fear of arrest. Most families have used up their savings, and few can afford transportation and school supplies.

Others rely on their children, who are less likely to get stopped at checkpoints, to work instead of attending school. Unless Lebanon changes this counterproductive policy, increased funding for education will not be enough to get all children into school.

But families and their children are still eager for an education. Some have gone into debt to enroll their children or moved closer to schools that might accept them.

One woman I interviewed temporarily moved back to Syria after failing to get her children in school in Lebanon. But no parent should be forced to choose between an education for their children and returning to a war zone.

European donors should encourage Lebanon to revise policies keeping children out of school, increase resettlement of refugees from Lebanon, and step up targeted financial support.

Lebanon needs help, and the children who fled the horrors of war in Syria need the tools to build a better future for themselves and their country.

Bassam Khawaja is a Sandler fellow in the children’s rights division at Human Rights Watch and the author of an upcoming report, entitled: Growing Up Without an Education: Barriers to Education for Syrian Refugee Children in Lebanon

Disclaimer

The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's, not those of EUobserver.

EU sanctions regime cannot be an 'EU Magnitsky Act'

The debate about the choice of name should not boil down to a political muscle show against Hungary, which opposes the reference to Magnitsky because of its political relations with the Russian government.

Voter turnout will decide Europe's fate

European voter turnout is in deep crisis. Since the early 2000s, the share of voters in national elections has fallen to 66 percent on average, which means that the birthplace of democracy now ranks below average globally.

Can Tusk go home again?

The opposition may not be able to defeat the rulling PiS without him, but if Donald Tusk wants to go home again, he will first have to remember where he came from.

Europe's far-right - united in diversity?

Europe's far-right is set to rise in the next European Parliament election. This vote will not yet allow the populists to build a majority. But it may become another milestone in their process of changing European politics.

News in Brief

  1. Russia-critical banker elected president of Lithuania
  2. Timmermans calls for 'progressive alliance'
  3. Catalonia's Puigdemont wins MEP seat
  4. Weber opens door to alliance with greens and liberals
  5. Tsipras calls snap Greek election after EP defeat
  6. Polish ruling party PiS takes lion's share of EU vote
  7. Romanian voters punish ruling PSD party
  8. First official EP projection: EPP remain top, Greens fourth

Press freedom and the EU elections

We are campaigning for the next European Commission to appoint a commissioner with a clear mandate to take on the challenge of the protection of freedom, independence and diversity of journalism.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Vote for the EU Sutainable Energy AwardsCast your vote for your favourite EUSEW Award finalist. You choose the winner of 2019 Citizen’s Award.
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersEducation gets refugees into work
  3. Counter BalanceSign the petition to help reform the EU’s Bank
  4. UNICEFChild rights organisations encourage candidates for EU elections to become Child Rights Champions
  5. UNESDAUNESDA Outlines 2019-2024 Aspirations: Sustainability, Responsibility, Competitiveness
  6. Counter BalanceRecord citizens’ input to EU bank’s consultation calls on EIB to abandon fossil fuels
  7. International Partnership for Human RightsAnnual EU-Turkmenistan Human Rights Dialogue takes place in Ashgabat
  8. Nordic Council of MinistersNew campaign: spot, capture and share Traces of North
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersLeading Nordic candidates go head-to-head in EU election debate
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Secretary General: Nordic co-operation must benefit everybody
  11. Platform for Peace and JusticeMEP Kati Piri: “Our red line on Turkey has been crossed”
  12. UNICEF2018 deadliest year yet for children in Syria as war enters 9th year

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic commitment to driving global gender equality
  2. International Partnership for Human RightsMeet your defender: Rasul Jafarov leading human rights defender from Azerbaijan
  3. UNICEFUNICEF Hosts MEPs in Jordan Ahead of Brussels Conference on the Future of Syria
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic talks on parental leave at the UN
  5. International Partnership for Human RightsTrial of Chechen prisoner of conscience and human rights activist Oyub Titiev continues.
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic food policy inspires India to be a sustainable superpower
  7. Nordic Council of MinistersMilestone for Nordic-Baltic e-ID
  8. Counter BalanceEU bank urged to free itself from fossil fuels and take climate leadership
  9. Intercultural Dialogue PlatformRoundtable: Muslim Heresy and the Politics of Human Rights, Dr. Matthew J. Nelson
  10. Platform for Peace and JusticeTurkey suffering from the lack of the rule of law
  11. UNESDASoft Drinks Europe welcomes Tim Brett as its new president
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic ministers take the lead in combatting climate change

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us