Dismay as world leaders fail to keep promise on Syrian refugee education

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Syrian children at a makeshift school in Turkey, which hosts more refugees than any other country (Theirworld / Rosie-Lyse Thompson)

Justin van Fleet, Refugees and internally displaced people, Theirworld

A coalition of global children’s charities – led by Theirworld – has accused world leaders of displaying a “gross failure of political leadership” after they failed to prioritise education at a major conference on the future of Syria.

The coalition said it was disappointed the international community had been unable to renew its commitment to the education of Syrian refugee children at yesterday’s Brussels IV Conference – Supporting the Future of Syria and the Region.

Leaders fell short of committing the $10 billion requested by the United Nations to help rebuild Syria. Instead, they pledged just $7.7 billion over the next two years – with many major donor countries, including the UK, making no firm commitments to education in their final pledges.

This was despite an impassioned plea by Mark Lowcock, the UN’s Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and the conference co-chair, to increase funding for the education of young Syrian refugees. 

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(Theirworld / Hussein Baydoun)

In his opening remarks, he said: “One of the most tragic consequences of the horror story of the last decade has been the robbing of millions of children of their right to a decent education. This will have major long-term consequences – by which I mean we will see the results for more than 50 years.”

In 2016 global leaders promised that every Syrian refugee would be given a place at school in neighbouring countries within a year. At current rates of progress, that would take another 17 years.

Almost 750,000 Syrian refugee children – 39% of all young Syrian refugees – remain out of school. This is in addition to the two million children inside Syria who are not receiving any education.

Justin van Fleet, President of Theirworld, said: “We are heartbroken that global leaders have broken a promise they made to hundreds of thousands of children, many of whom have never set foot into a classroom. 

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From Theirworld’s new report on Syrian refugee education

“This failure to address education, the most basic right for any child, is a gross failure of political leadership. At the current rate, it will be 17 years before this refugee education crisis is solved – far too late for the 750,000 children who are out of education now.

“The responsibility for these children lies with those who made a promise and broke it this week, making only vague commitments to support education for millions of children. These governments and leaders have let us and these children down.

“Education is not only an investment in humanity. Education also reduces the risk of child marriage, teenage pregnancy, child labour and exploitation. Importantly, it offers hope to children that they have not been forgotten.”

More than 20 leading children’s charities – including Theirworld, Save the Children, World Vision and Plan International – joined forces ahead of the conference to put pressure on the international community to renew their commitment to the education of Syrian refugees. 

In an open letter published ahead of the conference, they urged leaders not to give up on the hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugee children who remain out of school. 

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A child at a school in Lebanon, where Theirworld helped to introduce the double-shift system for refugees (Theirworld / Hussein Baydoun)

To coincide with the conference, Theirworld also published a new report – Keeping Our Promise to Syria’s refugees – and a video on Syrian refugee education. The report called for the following:  

Close the Funding Gap. Funding for refugee education in Syria and the region has declined since 2018 and there is a gap of $556 million between the funding available for education and the assessed education needs. None of the five main refugee hosting countries – Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Egypt and Iraq – have received enough funding to meet their full education needs. 

Develop new, multi-year response plans to address the persistent barriers to education and the new realities of Covid-19. 

Commit to improving performance and results – including better data sharing to track progress against commitments made.

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