Sunday

30th Apr 2017

Opinion

How the EU can make its Syria aid go further

Europeans who want to see a better future for Syrian refugee children can be proud: the European Union has given hundreds of millions of euros to help them go to school in the beleaguered countries near Syria.

But good luck tracking where that money went, and whether it is being used to address key problems preventing Syrian children from going to school.

Dear EUobserver reader

Subscribe now for unrestricted access to EUobserver.

Sign up for 30 days' free trial, no obligation. Full subscription only 15 € / month or 150 € / year.

  1. Unlimited access on desktop and mobile
  2. All premium articles, analysis, commentary and investigations
  3. EUobserver archives

EUobserver is the only independent news media covering EU affairs in Brussels and all 28 member states.

♡ We value your support.

If you already have an account click here to login.

The challenge of educating Syria’s displaced children is on stark display in Lebanon, which hosts more refugees per capita than any other country.

As of September, there were almost half a million school-age Syrian refugee children in Lebanon. More than half of them were out of school.

A clearer accounting of the EU’s contributions would also give Brussels more leverage to push Lebanon to improve how the aid money is spent and fix policies that are keeping Syrian children from getting to school.

In February, Lebanon pledged to get all children, Lebanese and Syrian, into school by the end of this academic year. Under its five-year education plan, that will require aid of around €331 million per year from donors.

The recent “compact” between the EU and Lebanon endorses this plan.

The EU has committed to give €400 million to Lebanon in 2016 and 2017, and has already given more than €1 billion in aid to Lebanon since the Syria conflict began, including €188 million for education and child protection.

But there is little public information on the specific projects this funding is supporting.

Our research has highlighted the problems Syrian children face when trying to go to school in Lebanon, and they are daunting.

The vast majority of Syrian refugees in Lebanon are poor and in debt; the UN refugee agency said on 22 November that 88 percent of Syrians had lacked food or money to buy food in the previous month.

Yet Lebanon requires every Syrian refugee aged 15 and above to pay $200 a year to renew their residency permit.

Refugees are often required to obtain Lebanese “sponsors”, who sometimes demand large payments. Since Lebanon imposed this residency policy in 2015, about 70 percent of Syrian refugees have lost their status.

The residency policy is exacerbating poverty and making it harder for children to attend school. Fearing arrest and possible deportation if they move around in search of informal, low-wage jobs, many Syrian refugees depend on their children to work because the children can move around more easily.

In addition, the curricula in Lebanon are largely English and French, languages with which Arabic-speaking Syrian children are often unfamiliar, yet language training is seldom available.

And even if parents try to send their children to school, transport costs are often a barrier. All of this may explain why Syrian enrolment rates in secondary education in particular are low.

But it is almost impossible to find out which issues EU aid is targeting to help bring Syrian refugee children back to school.

We know that the EU’s Madad Fund has given more than €232 million for schooling in Lebanon, Turkey, and Jordan and that the European Neighbourhood Instrument provided €250 million for basic services in Lebanese communities.

But neither of these instruments provides a detailed breakdown of where that money is actually spent.

Echo, the European Commission’s humanitarian arm, does have a fund-tracking database and has allocated €87 million to Lebanon in 2016, but there are no entries on education funding there.

More transparency would help EU taxpayers ensure their money is spent to remove critical blockages preventing Syrian children from going to school.

It would also put the onus on Lebanon to explain why a quarter-million refugee children are still out-of-school despite international support.

In its compact with the EU, Lebanon merely commits to consider “periodical waiver of residency fees” and steps to ease refugees’ access to the job market “in sectors where they are not in direct competition with Lebanese”.

No timelines, no benchmarks. These vague commitments are not good enough.

It’s in everyone’s interest for Syria’s youngest generation to enjoy their right to education and acquire the knowledge and skills they will need to contribute to the economies of their countries of asylum and ultimately to help rebuild Syria.

It is in Lebanon’s own interest to abolish impossible requirements that deprive Syrian refugees of their status and keep their children out of school.

Europeans would have more leverage to push for needed change if the EU published detailed, timely, and comprehensive information about its support to countries wracked by Syria’s misery.

Bill Van Esveld is a senior children’s rights researcher and Simon Rau is a Mercator Fellow with the children’s rights division, both at Human Rights Watch, an NGO based in New York

Let refugees help the EU

To solve the Syrian refugee crisis the EU will have to take a leadership role and work effectively with refugee and diaspora communities who can serve as agents of change.

EU court to rule on humanitarian visas

The European Court of Justice will examine the case of a Syrian family who wants to go to Belgium. Its decision will apply to all EU countries.

Agenda

Brexit, Syria and Greece on the agenda This WEEK

The European Parliament will adopt its position on the UK's exit, and eurozone finance ministers will try to break a deadlock on the Greek bailout talks. Meanwhile in Brussels, there will be discussions on ending the war in Syria.

Column / Brexit Briefing

May’s election juggernaut

The prime minister's Tories almost need not bother campaigning for the June election. There is no opposition worthy of the name.

Column / Brexit Briefing

May's drive for one-party Brexit state

Snap election will kill off attempts to reopen debate on second referendum and inflict further damaged on confused opposition.

News in Brief

  1. Vote of no confidence prepared against Spanish PM
  2. Syria to buy Russian anti-missile system
  3. Germany seeks partial burka ban
  4. Libya has no plan to stop migration flows
  5. EU has no evidence of NGO-smuggler collusion in Libya
  6. Poland gets 'final warning' on logging in ancient forest
  7. Commission gives Italy final warning on air pollution
  8. Romania and Slovenia taken to court over environment policies

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. European Healthy Lifestyle AllianceCharlotte Hornets' Nicolas Batum Tells Kids to "Eat Well, Drink Well, Move!"
  2. ECR GroupSyed Kamall: We Need a New, More Honest Relationship With Turkey
  3. Counter BalanceParliament Sends Strong Signal to the EIB: Time to Act on Climate Change
  4. ACCARisks and Opportunities of Blockchain and Shared Ledgers Technologies in Financial Services
  5. UNICEFRace Against Time to Save Millions of Lives in Yemen
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersDeveloping Independent Russian-Language Media in the Baltic Countries
  7. Swedish EnterprisesReform of the European Electricity Market: Lessons from the Nordics, Brussels 2 May
  8. Malta EU 2017Green Light Given for New EU Regulation to Bolster External Border Checks
  9. Counter BalanceCall for EU Commission to Withdraw Support of Trans-Adriatic Pipeline
  10. ACCAEconomic Confidence at Highest Since 2015
  11. European Federation of Allergy and Airways60%-90% of Your Life Is Spent Indoors. How Does Poor Indoor Air Quality Affect You?
  12. European Gaming and Betting AssociationCJEU Confirms Obligation for a Transparent Licensing Process

Latest News

  1. EU boasts unity on Brexit talks
  2. May’s election juggernaut
  3. EPP scolds Orban over university and NGO laws
  4. Oxford-Studie besorgt über 'Schrott' News in Frankreich
  5. Alte Freundschaft zwischen Le Pen und Putin
  6. EP chief faces questions after homophobic 'summit'
  7. EU signals Northern Ireland could join if united with Ireland
  8. One year later: EU right to open internet still virtual

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Region and the US: A Time of Warlike Rhetoric and Militarisation?
  2. European Free AllianceEFA MEPs Vote in Favor of European Parliament's Brexit Mandate
  3. Mission of China to the EUXinhua Insight: China to Open up Like Never Before
  4. World VisionViolence Becomes New Normal for Syrian Children
  5. International Partnership for Human RightsTime to Turn the Tide and End Repression of Central Asia's Civil Society
  6. European Free AllianceAutonomia to Normalnosc - Poland Urged to Re-Grant Autonomy to Silesia
  7. UNICEFHitting Rock Bottom - How 2016 Became the Worst Year for #ChildrenofSyria
  8. Malta EU 2017Green Light Given for New EU Regulation to Bolster External Border Checks
  9. ACCAG20 Citizens Want 'Big Picture' Tax Policymaking, According to Global Survey
  10. Belgrade Security ForumCall for Papers: European Union as a Global Crisis Manager - Deadline 30 April
  11. European Gaming & Betting Association60 Years Rome Treaty – 60 Years Building an Internal Market
  12. Malta EU 2017New EU Rules to Prevent Terrorism and Give More Rights to Victims Approved