Syria and the refugee ice­berg

Financial Mirror (Cyprus) - - FRONT PAGE -

If the only refugee cri­sis that the world faced to­day were in Syria, it would be chal­leng­ing and heart­break­ing enough. But the tragic truth is that the Syr­ian cri­sis is the tip of an enor­mous – and ex­pand­ing – ice­berg. Many other refugee crises around the world never make it into the in­ter­na­tional head­lines. In­deed, a stag­ger­ing 86% of the world’s refugees live in de­vel­op­ing coun­tries, most of which draw very lit­tle me­dia at­ten­tion.

Chad is one such coun­try. With roughly 13 mil­lion peo­ple, Chad is si­t­u­ated at the cen­tre of im­mense re­gional tur­moil, con­flict, and in­sta­bil­ity. As a re­sult, it hosts more than 372,000 refugees. Th­ese are peo­ple who have fled vi­o­lence in Su­dan’s Dar­fur re­gion to the east of Chad, a shattering civil war in the Cen­tral African Re­pub­lic to its south, and the es­ca­lat­ing ter­ror of Boko Haram in Nige­ria and neigh­bour­ing coun­tries to the west.

As one of the poor­est coun­tries in the world, Chad strug­gles to meet the ba­sic hu­man needs of its own pop­u­la­tion, let alone the many bat­tered peo­ple from be­yond its bor­ders. To make mat­ters worse, Chad is in the Sa­hel re­gion, which has suf­fered acute famine over the last few years, and de­clin­ing oil prices have hit the re­gional eco­nomic out­look.

Wher­ever they are, most refugees face nearly iden­ti­cal depre­da­tions: hunger and de­hy­dra­tion, lack of de­cent shel­ter, sus­cep­ti­bil­ity to ill­ness, vul­ner­a­bil­ity to con­tin­ued threats from com­bat­ants and ter­ror groups, the emo­tional trauma of what’s lost, and anx­i­ety about what lies ahead.

Also, not least, they share the risk that their chil­dren might not re­ceive the education they need and de­serve – and as the Uni­ver­sal Dec­la­ra­tion of Hu­man Rights prom­ises. In­deed, con­flict and cri­sis is one of the big­gest, and grow­ing, bar­ri­ers to ed­u­cat­ing the world’s chil­dren.

Hu­man­i­tar­ian emer­gen­cies and pro­tracted crises dis­rupted the education of more than 80 mil­lion chil­dren and youth in 35 coun­tries in 2015. That’s al­most the size of a coun­try like Ger­many. Fail­ing to pro­vide ba­sic ser­vices for th­ese chil­dren robs them not only of their child­hood, but also of their fu­ture.

About four mil­lion peo­ple in Chad – or about one-third of the coun­try’s pop­u­la­tion – will need hu­man­i­tar­ian as­sis­tance in 2016. In the Lake Chad re­gion, which is host to the most re­cent wave of ar­rivals, more than 60% of chil­dren are out of school. The av­er­age class size for those in pri­mary school is 75, and the rate of adult il­lit­er­acy is 96% – shock­ing sta­tis­tics that no coun­try should have to ac­cept.

That’s why the Global Part­ner­ship for Education re­cently ap­proved Chad’s re­quest for an ex­pe­dited emer­gency education grant of about $7 mil­lion to ben­e­fit both refugee and lo­cal chil­dren. The money will go to­ward the con­struc­tion of class­rooms, train­ing for hun­dreds of teach­ers, the de­liv­ery of thou­sands of text­books, and other sup­plies. It will also fund mi­cronu­tri­ents and par­a­site treat­ment for all stu­dents and the food, wa­ter, hygiene, and hu­man care crit­i­cal to chil­dren’s de­vel­op­ment, es­pe­cially dur­ing times of dis­tress.

Hu­man­i­tar­ian re­sponses too of­ten give lower pri­or­ity – and thus far fewer re­sources – to education than, say, ba­sic health, shel­ter, and nutri­tion. In fact, only about 2% of hu­man­i­tar­ian aid goes to education.

What the world needs is a ded­i­cated plat­form and fi­nanc­ing mech­a­nism that mo­bilises new re­sources to se­cure education for chil­dren caught in the mael­strom of se­vere con­flict and pro­tracted cri­sis. At GPE, we are con­scious that at cur­rent re­source lev­els we can do only so much. More money and new forms of co­or­di­na­tion are needed.

Against this back­drop, it is heart­en­ing to see that global lead­ers have been en­gaged for the last year in con­certed ef­forts to es­tab­lish such a plat­form, which is ex­pected to be launched in May at the World Hu­man­i­tar­ian Sum­mit in Turkey. I have felt priv­i­leged to play a role in the Cham­pi­ons’ Group, which has pressed for this change agenda. Gor­don Brown, the UN Spe­cial En­voy for Global Education, has played and con­tin­ues to play a gal­va­niz­ing lead­er­ship role.

Con­flict and fragility, not only in Syria, but also in many other lesser-known sites of mass mis­ery, are among the most ur­gent and seem­ingly in­tractable global chal­lenges of our time. Our only hope of break­ing out of this cy­cle of vi­o­lence and poverty is to en­sure that ev­ery child, in­clud­ing those trapped by cri­sis, gets qual­ity school­ing and the abil­ity to build a brighter fu­ture.

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