Tuesday

22nd Oct 2019

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.

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

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

Disclaimer

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

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.

Does the EU have a Syria strategy?

Instability in the Mediterranean region is not in the long-term interest of Europe - that means mobilising leverage that the EU has in other areas to incentivise hard-nosed actors in Moscow, Tehran and Ankara to agree to the EU's vision.

News in Brief

  1. MEPs criticise Juncker over climate and tax policies
  2. Juncker defends commission record on Greek crisis
  3. Croatian MEP criticises EU parliament for trusting Šuica
  4. Brexit is waste of time and energy, says Juncker
  5. Abortion and same-sex marriage become legal in Northern Ireland
  6. Germany wants internationally controlled zone in Syria
  7. EU parliament refuses to debate Catalonia
  8. Four businessmen charged in Slovak journalist murder

Defending the defenders: ombudsmen need support

Ombudsmen are often coming under attack or facing different kinds of challenges. These can include threats, legal action, reprisals, budget cuts or a limitation of their mandate.

Column

The benefits of being unpopular

Paradoxically, the lack of popularity may be part of the strength of the European project. Citizens may not be super-enthusiastic about the EU, but when emotions run too high in politics, hotheads may take over.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. UNESDAUNESDA welcomes Nicholas Hodac as new Director General
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersBrussels welcomes Nordic culture
  3. UNESDAUNESDA appoints Nicholas Hodac as Director General
  4. UNESDASoft drinks industry co-signs Circular Plastics Alliance Declaration
  5. FEANIEngineers Europe Advisory Group: Building the engineers of the future
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersNew programme studies infectious diseases and antibiotic resistance
  7. UNESDAUNESDA reduces added sugars 11.9% between 2015-2017
  8. International Partnership for Human RightsEU-Uzbekistan Human Rights Dialogue: EU to raise key fundamental rights issues
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersNo evidence that social media are harmful to young people
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersCanada to host the joint Nordic cultural initiative 2021
  11. Vote for the EU Sutainable Energy AwardsCast your vote for your favourite EUSEW Award finalist. You choose the winner of 2019 Citizen’s Award.
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersEducation gets refugees into work

Latest News

  1. EU centrists ally with far right on migrant rescues
  2. MPs vote on Johnson's latest push for Brexit deal
  3. Macron breaks Balkans promise in quest for EU dominance
  4. Snap elections in North Macedonia after EU rejection
  5. UK opposition MPs attack new Brexit deal
  6. Deep divisions on display over post-Brexit EU budget
  7. Juncker: 'Historic mistake' against Balkan EU hopefuls
  8. EU leaders spent just 12 minutes on climate

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Counter BalanceSign the petition to help reform the EU’s Bank
  2. UNICEFChild rights organisations encourage candidates for EU elections to become Child Rights Champions
  3. UNESDAUNESDA Outlines 2019-2024 Aspirations: Sustainability, Responsibility, Competitiveness
  4. Counter BalanceRecord citizens’ input to EU bank’s consultation calls on EIB to abandon fossil fuels
  5. International Partnership for Human RightsAnnual EU-Turkmenistan Human Rights Dialogue takes place in Ashgabat
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersNew campaign: spot, capture and share Traces of North
  7. Nordic Council of MinistersLeading Nordic candidates go head-to-head in EU election debate
  8. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Secretary General: Nordic co-operation must benefit everybody
  9. Platform for Peace and JusticeMEP Kati Piri: “Our red line on Turkey has been crossed”
  10. UNICEF2018 deadliest year yet for children in Syria as war enters 9th year
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic commitment to driving global gender equality
  12. International Partnership for Human RightsMeet your defender: Rasul Jafarov leading human rights defender from Azerbaijan

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us