A break­through for child refugees?

Financial Mirror (Cyprus) - - FRONT PAGE -

Buried in the dec­la­ra­tion from the just-com­pleted fourth United Na­tions’ Syria Pledg­ing Con­fer­ence in Lon­don is a lit­tle pub­li­cised but im­por­tant prom­ise: by next year, ev­ery Syr­ian refugee child will be of­fered a place in school.

The world, at long last, has taken se­ri­ously the need to pro­vide education to con­flict-af­fected chil­dren. Up to this point, global hu­man­i­tar­ian aid tar­get­ing education has ac­counted for less than 2% of funds pledged. Though this shift is yet to be fully funded, it re­flects the long over­due recog­ni­tion by gov­ern­ments and aid agen­cies that hu­man­i­tar­ian crises are not over in weeks or months, and that refugees need more than food and shel­ter.

The myr­iad mis­eries con­fronting mil­lions of out-of-school chil­dren should give us the political will to ful­fill this pledge. Refugees spend an av­er­age of ten years away from their homes. With­out in­ter­ven­tion, many of the chil­dren dis­placed by Syria’s civil war – not to men­tion the other 24 mil­lion chil­dren world­wide who are out of school be­cause of con­flict – would never en­ter a class­room dur­ing their school-age years. As adults, they would re­mem­ber child­hoods spent in shacks, hov­els, or the streets, de­prived of the ful­fill­ment and hope that comes with an education.

But the costs of a lost education ex­tend far be­yond feel­ings and emo­tions. When an education stops – or is stolen – chil­dren lose the pro­tec­tion of schools. Many are ex­ploited. Young girls are tar­geted by traf­fick­ers and van­ish into an abyss of unimag­in­able de­prav­ity. Young boys are forced into fac­to­ries or the front lines of war.

With adults of­ten banned from work­ing in their coun­try of refuge, those chil­dren lucky enough to have liv­ing par­ents are pushed into labour – wher­ever they can find it – to pro­vide their fam­i­lies with some minis­cule in­come. But no amount of stitch­ing, shov­el­ing, or fight­ing can se­cure a fu­ture the way an education can.

We see the costs in Syria. With­out pro­vi­sion for chil­dren, fam­i­lies give up hope for any fu­ture in the re­gion and em­bark on risky – and of­ten fa­tal – voy­ages to Europe. Chil­dren who re­main be­hind, fear­ful of an un­know­able fu­ture, are eas­ily re­cruited by ex­trem­ists. If we are sin­cere in our de­sire to slow the ex­o­dus to Europe, to pre­vent the rad­i­cal­i­sa­tion of chil­dren, and to pre­pare for Syria’s re­con­struc­tion, we must see education, not em­i­gra­tion (much less ex­trem­ism), as a child’s pass­port to the fu­ture.

The fail­ure to fund education for refugees is no ac­ci­dent. It is the di­rect re­sult of a struc­turally flawed sys­tem that strands the needs of school­child­ren be­tween hu­man­i­tar­ian aid bud­gets (98% of which go to food, shel­ter and health care) and de­vel­op­ment aid (which is nec­es­sar­ily long term).

Now that education for Syria’s child refugees has been recog­nised as a re­spon­si­bil­ity of the hu­man­i­tar­ian aid sys­tem, we have to find the means to fi­nance it. The dec­la­ra­tion stated only that par­tic­i­pants “noted” the need for at least $1.4 bil­lion in an­nual fund­ing. While a lot has been promised, we must en­sure that it is de­liv­ered. And, even if it is, a lot more is needed, as more chil­dren are dis­placed ev­ery day.

There is a no bet­ter venue to build on the Lon­don dec­la­ra­tion than the World Hu­man­i­tar­ian Sum­mit in Istanbul in May. At the epi­cen­tre of the world’s big­gest refugee cri­sis, we must take an­other step for­ward, by es­tab­lish­ing what I call the HOPE fund: The Hu­man­i­tar­ian Op­er­a­tion for the Pro­vi­sion of Education in Emer­gen­cies, the first per­ma­nent fund guar­an­tee­ing education in con­flict zones.

No one needs HOPE more than Ahmed, a 12-year-old I met in a Beirut re­cep­tion cen­tre for refugees. Like most Syr­ian refugees, he was out of school but des­per­ate to re­turn. When I asked him what he wanted to be when he grew up, he re­sponded with­out hes­i­ta­tion: “an en­gi­neer.” I am used to hear­ing chil­dren tell me of their dreams to be ev­ery­thing from air­line pi­lots to rap artists, but not en­gi­neers. Why an en­gi­neer? “To re­turn home,” he said “and re­build Syria.”

With pri­vate foun­da­tions, gov­ern­ments, and busi­nesses all pledg­ing to con­trib­ute, the HOPE fund that I have in mind could be in op­er­a­tion by the end of the year. With 50 com­pa­nies al­ready com­mit­ting $70 mil­lion to fund education for Syr­ian refugees, we have shown that the most en­tre­pre­neur­ial and in­no­va­tive com­pa­nies can be part­ners in peace.

Con­sider one of our goals – dig­i­tal ac­cess and on­line cour­ses for chil­dren in refugee camps. If to­day’s tech­nol­ogy wizards can en­able us to turn on our house lights from half­way around the world, think what they could do for education in emer­gen­cies. Face­book, Google, Ap­ple and oth­ers have of­fered to help. We must now per­suade them to co­or­di­nate their ef­forts in of­fer­ing on­line classes for teach­ers and refugee chil­dren.

For­tu­nately, we have a suc­cess story to in­spire our com­ing ef­forts. In the past year, Le­banon has taken vul­ner­a­ble Syr­ian chil­dren off the streets by cre­at­ing 207,000 school places. Un­der a dou­ble-shift ar­range­ment, Syr­ian refugees re­ceive in­struc­tion in the af­ter­noon and early evening in the same class­rooms that lo­cal Le­banese chil­dren oc­cupy ear­lier in the day.

This suc­cess­ful ex­per­i­ment proves that it is pos­si­ble to of­fer education to one mil­lion Syr­ian chil­dren in 2016, and to all of them in 2017. Fol­low­ing Le­banon’s ex­am­ple, both Turkey and Jor­dan have an­nounced plans to dou­ble the num­ber of school places for refugees.

If we can suc­ceed in one of the most war-rav­aged re­gions of the world, progress else­where would be­come much more likely.

The for­got­ten child refugees of South Su­dan and Ye­men would be brought out of the shad­ows. Myan­mar’s per­se­cuted mi­nori­ties would gain the op­por­tu­nity to help shape their coun­try’s fledg­ling democ­racy. And the long-suf­fer­ing boys and girls along the Afghanistan/Pak­istan bor­der would be given the tools to build a fu­ture.

The world has come to­gether re­peat­edly to fight dis­ease and disas­ter. We have ral­lied against – and top­pled – dic­ta­tors and tyrants. Now let us be the first gen­er­a­tion to put ev­ery child in school.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Cyprus

© PressReader. All rights reserved.