April 04, 2017

UNRWA delivers education to 53,000 Palestinian refugees from Syria

A UNRWA teacher works with children in a classroom

Photo credit: UNRWA / Rushdi al-Sarraj

Ewan Watt

Online Editor, Theirworld

The UN agency has supported children in Syria and neighbouring countries through its education in emergencies programme.

Its name may not be as well known globally as other United Nations agencies like UNICEF or UNESCO. But UNRWA has been helping Palestinian refugees since 1949.

It has educated three generations, or four million refugee children. And it currently provides free education to more than 500,000 children and youth in over 700 schools and training centres. 

With the Syria crisis now in its seventh year, UNRWA has played a crucial role in ensuring Palestinian refugee children from Syria are able to get a quality education.

Its Education in Emergencies (EiE) programme has been working to ensure access to quality education for Palestinian refugees - both in Syria and those whose families fled to neighbouring countries.

500,000 students are enrolled in UNRWA's schools in Gaza, the West Bank, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria

Photo credit: UNRWA / Taghrid Mohammad

UNRWA - whose full title is United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East - has released statistics for that work up to March 1.

  • 53,135 children have been supported by UNRWA EiE
  • 101 UNRWA schools are operating in Syria
  • 44 schools are operating in UNRWA facilities
  • 22 recreational spaces for children in Syria

By the end of 2016, 13,739 children accessed self-learning materials through the programme.

UNRWA Director Pierre Krahenbuhl said today: "Despite the dangers and the damages to many of our schools, education services were never interrupted and UNRWA can humbly claim that it truly has left no one behind."

Education is vital in emergency situations, including conflicts and natural disasters. Emergencies can disrupt a child's education for years. 

This means children miss out on vital learning and are deprived of a safe place to be when they are in very traumatic circumstances.

Without an education, young people's childhoods may be lost to child labour, child marriage, recruitment by armed groups or other life-threatening activities. A child who is out of school for more than a year is unlikely to return.

UNRWA also offers psychosocial support to help students deal with trauma and support their recovery. 

The report says: "Despite all the hardship, displacement, violence and poverty endured by UNRWA students during a punishing conflict, Syria is one of the agency’s highest-performing fields in terms of educational outcomes, equity and attendance." 

Syria's Palestinian refugee population has fallen by a fifth since the start of the Syrian conflict in 2011.

Krahenbuhl said there are 440,000 refugees in Syria, compared with 560,000 before the war.

Students and teachers work on physical, social and psychological development

Photo credit: UNRWA

He has just returned from a trip to a Palestinian refugee camp near Aleppo to see the work of his staff. He paid tribute to them, while remembering 20 colleagues killed during the Syria conflict and another 25 missing or presumed detained.

Krahenbuhl added: "Despite the achievements, in meetings with our teachers, I was confronted with strong demands that UNRWA should do more for its students in Aleppo and Syria more widely.

"Overcrowded classrooms were described as unmanageable, psychosocial support for students and teachers as insufficient, and increased scholarships and opportunities after graduation as vital."

He said he was determined to address these issues.

Meanwhile, the European Union has just donated $10.6 million to UNRWA  for its programmes in Syria, including education, health, technical and vocational education and training, and emergency cash assistance.

Japan also has donated more than $3 million to support UNICEF’s work on addressing the urgent needs and rights of Palestinian children.

The grant will let UN children's agency and its partners implement initiatives for nearly 130,000 children and 25,000 caregivers in the critical areas of education, water and sanitation, protection, health and nutrition across the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.

Japan has supported Palestinians since 1993 and has given UNICEF almost $73 million for its work with Palestinian children.

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