March 31, 2021

Still a broken promise: world leaders fail to deliver for out-of-school Syrian refugee children

Theirworld has been supporting education for Syrian refugee children, through our campaigns and projects in Turkey and Lebanon

Photo credit: Rosie-Lyse Thompson / Theirworld

A shortfall in donations at the latest Brussels conference is likely to mean even less spending on education - a bitter blow for 750,000 displaced children who are missing out.

Hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugee children will continue to be deprived of education after world leaders failed yet again to prioritise their schooling.

At a conference hosted by the the European Union yesterday, the international community pledged $6.4 billion for 2021 to help those affected by the Syria conflict. That is far short of the $10 billion funding needed and did not include any specific commitments to address the education crisis.

It's now five years since global leaders promised at the first Supporting Syria and the Region conference to get every Syrian refugee child into school that year. Progress has been made but 750,000 Syrian refugee children and adolescents are still shut out of classrooms in neighbouring countries such as Turkey and Lebanon, as well as 2.45 million children inside Syria itself.

“Millions of children have been missing out on education for over 10 years now as a result of the Syria crisis," said Rob Doble, Theirworld's Director of Policy, Advocacy and Programmes. "Back in 2016, world leaders promised that every Syrian refugee would be given a place at school in neighbouring countries within a year - but that promise continues to be broken.

"The failure of donors at the Brussels Conference this week to step up and increase funding for the Syria response - with the top five donors to the Syria response all decreasing their funding for 2021 compared to 2020 - represents a gross failure in political leadership.

"While there were some positive mentions of the importance of education from donors such as Denmark, Netherlands and Australia, our worry is that decreases to overall funding will translate into decreased funding for education, when the funding for education was already insufficient."

Doble said the current slow rate of progress means it will be at least 17 years before the refugee education crisis is solved - too late to help the 750,000 children currently out of school.

"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," he added.

"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.”

Theirworld has been campaigning on the issue since the broken promise to get all Syrian refugee children in school was made at a London conference in 2016. Since then, five annual Brussels conferences on Supporting the Future of Syria and the Region have been held.  

Syrian refugee children who took part in a Theirworld nutrition programme to keep them at school in Lebanon

Photo credit: Theirworld

This week's conference featured a Day of Dialogue between civil society organisations, refugee-hosting countries, the EU and the UN. It was followed by yesterday's ministerial sessions, where Mark Lowcock - the UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator - made a special plea for education funding.

He said: "Close to 2.5 million Syrian children - including 40% of girls - are not going to school. One in three schools cannot be used because they have been destroyed or damaged or because now they house displaced families or are being used for military purposes.

"The pandemic has made it even harder for children in Syria to go to school. Students with disabilities and girls are among the most affected. That's why I urge donors to prioritise support for children's education in Syria and in the region." 

UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore said neighbouring countries had taken in 80% of Syrian refugees. She said: "Children are falling behind in their learning and finding it difficult to return to school - they are at risk of dropping out. Younger children and children with disabilities face further challenges and we are seeing a sharp drop in attendance for adolescents."

Germany has made the biggest pledge towards 2021 funding in the region, with $1.12 billion. Other 2021 commitments include $669 million from the European Union, $596 million from the United States and $286 million from the United Kingdom - well down on last year's donation of $386 million. 

Ten years of the Syrian civil war have claimed hundreds of thousands of lives and dispersed millions of Syrians throughout the region. Theirworld is committed to helping Syrian refugee children and giving them the safe place to learn that they were denied at home. Earlier this month we reported on our work to support education for Syrian children.

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