February 17, 2017

#YouPromised: campaigners won't stop until every Syrian refugee child is in school

Syrian refugee children at Ketermaya Public School in Lebanon

Theirworld/Anthony Achkar

Ewan Watt

Online Editor, Theirworld

With world leaders preparing to meet at the G7 talks in May, half of Syrian refugee children are being educated in neighbouring countries - but hundreds of thousands more were promised they would also be in school by now.

Campaigners are keeping up the pressure on world leaders to stick to their historic promise to deliver education to every Syrian refugee child in this school year.

With the heads of the G7 countries preparing to meet in May, much has been achieved since that dramatic pledge was made a year ago. About half of Syrian refugee children in the neighbouring countries of Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan are now in school. 

But with the end of the 2016-17 school year only a few months away, close to one million children are still being deprived of an education.

"The job is only half-done," warned Priti Patel, the United Kingdom's International Development Secretary. "It is now critical that donors deliver on their long-term funding pledges."

Some countries have made good on the promise that was announced at the Supporting Syria and the Region conference in February 2016. The talks were co-hosted in London by the UK, Germany, Norway, Kuwait and the United Nations and involved more than 60 donors.

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In fact, the UK, United States, Germany and the European Union have all delivered more money than they initially pledged and the conference has raised more than $12 billion in funding for 2016 and beyond.

But, a year on, only half of the $1.4 billion needed for education has come through.

Theirworld has been campaigning for months for the international community to ensure all Syrian refugee children are in school, where they can learn and be safe from the risks of child labour, early marriage and exploitation.

Our #YouPromised campaign encouraged supporters to send messages to the conference co-hosts that they cannot let down those children still out of school.

"One year ago, a promise was made to 1.6 million Syrian refugee children - a promise that their futures wouldn’t be abandoned. An education. And the money to make it happen," Mary Todd wrote on the Facebook page of the German foreign ministry. "We know you agree that a promise like this to children is the kind of promise you don’t break."

That was just one example of hundreds of messages shared on social media. On Norway's foreign ministry Facebook page, Kenfack Foleng Alex wrote: "Education is the key to sustainable development that can change the world. So make it a duty to respect your promises."

And Linda Hurrell told Kuwait's foreign ministry: "The promises to the children of Syria are of the utmost importance. How will they be met? We need to know you can and will do this."

What happens next?

We need to keep up the pressure on international leaders who will be at the G7 meeting in Sicily, Italy, on May 26 and 27. It will be the first G7 talks for the new leaders of the USA, UK, Canada and France. The other members are Germany, Italy and the EU.

Send a message to those leaders using the action button above.

Before the G7 meeting, the EU will host a conference in April on the future of Syria and the region. 

A major objective of the talks in Brussels will be taking stock of how the commitments made at last year's London conference have been delivered to the people who need them - including Syrian refugee children.

What has actually been delivered on education?

Theirworld tried for many weeks to find out what has happened to the $1.4 billion needed to provide education to every Syrian refugee child in Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan.

Our investigation in January uncovered the lack of a clear and coherent overview of how the education pledge is progressing. We found that less than a third of the $1.4 billion funding needed for education was committed in 2016.

In Lebanon, a Syrian refugee wanders around a settlement in Al Marej, in the Bekaa Valley. She has no classes to attend

UNICEF / Yurtsever

A statement by the London conference co-hosts was then issued on February 6 - the anniversary of the pledge. It said achievements on education so far included:

  • JORDAN - an extra 23,000 Syrian children enrolled in education for the 2016-17 school year, taking the total to an estimated 166,000
  • LEBANON - "huge progress" in getting refugee children into public schools. 203,000 now enrolled, compared to 150,000 in 2015-16
  • TURKEY - nearly 500,000 Syrians enrolled in school and 18,000 Syrian volunteer teachers trained

The co-hosts also released a report that day that broke down the grant contributions by sector, including education. It said $14.7 million had gone to Turkey, $302 million to Jordan and $198 million to Lebanon. 

That total leaves a shortfall of $1 billion. 

Who has paid what so far?

The 2016 London conference has raised $12 billion in grants and $40 billion in loans for the region. 

As already mentioned, the UK, the US, Germany and the EU have all delivered more than they pledged last year. 

The UK, Germany, the EU and Norway have also made considerable promises of long-term funding - 60% of the total pledges of humanitarian aid up to 2020 come from the EU, the UK and Germany.

A Syrian refugee girl studies at home in Turkey.

Theirworld/Jessica Bryant

But less than half of the promises for 2017 to 2020 have been honoured - and only 31% of the loans have been delivered. 

Notable names on the list include China, which promised $35 million but has delivered only $3 million, and Saudi Arabia, which pledged $200 million and so far has paid $28 million.

Who is saying what now?

The UK's Priti Patel warned: "The protracted crisis in Syria is the defining humanitarian challenge of our time and history will judge us if the international community does not deliver on the support Syrian refugees and the region needs."

Gordon Brown, the UN Special Envoy for Global Education, told an inquiry at the British parliament: “We have to ask what kind of world it is when we do least for those children who are most vulnerable and most in need…the girls and boys out of sight, out of mind, out of school and out of hope."

The UN itself has asked for $3.5 billion over two years to improve education and living standards for the 2.8 million Syrian refugees living in Turkey. A spokesman for the UN refugees agency UNHCR said until recently Turkey had been the lowest-funded of the host communities.

The UN said: "Many families have resorted to negative coping mechanisms, such as child marriage, polygamy, child labour, reduced quality or quantity of food consumption, substandard housing and street begging."

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