Time is run­ning out for Syr­ian refugee kids out of school

No child should be de­prived ac­cess to for­mal ed­u­ca­tion

Executive Magazine - - Front Page - BAS­SAM KHAWAJA is a fel­low in the chil­dren’s rights divi­sion at Hu­man Rights Watch and the au­thor of a new re­port, “‘Grow­ing Up With­out an Ed­u­ca­tion’: Bar­ri­ers to Ed­u­ca­tion for Syr­ian Refugee Chil­dren in Le­banon.” Fol­low him on Twit­ter @Bas­sam_Khawaja. By

No child should be de­prived ac­cess to for­mal ed­u­ca­tion

“We can’t af­ford to put them in school here. All my chil­dren were study­ing in Syria, but if I put them in school here, how would I live?” “Muna”, 45, and her fam­ily live across the street from a school in Mount Le­banon, but her chil­dren, “Yousef”, 11, and “Nizar”, 10, have never set foot in a Le­banese class­room. In­stead, they sell gum on the street to help their fam­ily pay for rent and food. “Even if ev­ery­thing was free, the chil­dren wouldn’t be able to go to school,” she said. “They are the only ones who can work.”

Le­banon has taken in more than 1.1 mil­lion Syr­ian refugees since the start of the Syr­ian con­flict in 2011. Of this num­ber, 500,000 are of school age, three to 18. De­spite the Ed­u­ca­tion Min­istry’s ef­forts to en­sure that all chil­dren en­roll in ed­u­ca­tion, more than 250,000 Syr­ian chil­dren are still out of school.

Re­search I con­ducted for a new Hu­man Rights Watch re­port found that de­spite the govern­ment’s de­ci­sion to al­low Syr­i­ans to en­roll in pub­lic schools for free, with the as­sis­tance of in­ter­na­tional donors, sev­eral bar­ri­ers are still keep­ing them out of the class­room.

Some school di­rec­tors are im­pos­ing ar­bi­trary en­roll­ment re­quire­ments, like ask­ing Syr­i­ans to pro­vide valid res­i­dency in Le­banon – de­spite the Ed­u­ca­tion Min­istry’s pol­icy which does not re­quire res­i­dency for en­roll­ment. Stu­dents are also strug­gling to un­der­stand classes taught in English or French with­out ad­e­quate lan­guage sup­port, and chil­dren with dis­abil­i­ties and sec­ondary school-age chil­dren face par­tic­u­larly acute ob­sta­cles.

Our re­search found that ac­cess to ed­u­ca­tion is also in­ex­tri­ca­bly tied to the de­te­ri­o­rat­ing liv­ing con­di­tions of Syr­i­ans in Le­banon. Seventy per­cent of Syr­i­ans lived be­low the poverty line of $3.84 per per­son per day in 2015. Many sim­ply can­not af­ford to pay for ba­sic school-re­lated costs like trans­porta­tion. In­creas­ingly, chil­dren are be­ing pulled out of school as their par­ents rely on child la­bor to sur­vive. New res­i­dency reg­u­la­tions in­tro­duced in Jan­uary 2015 have made it dif­fi­cult or im­pos­si­ble for Syr­i­ans to main­tain le­gal sta­tus in Le­banon, and an es­ti­mated two-thirds of refugees now lack res­i­dency and are un­able to move around to find work for fear of ar­rest.

Le­banon can­not ad­dress the chal­lenge of ed­u­cat­ing Syr­ian chil­dren alone, but there are clear steps that the Le­banese govern­ment can take to ad­dress this ma­jor is­sue. It can re­vise its res­i­dency pol­icy to en­sure that Syr­ian adults can look for work with­out fear of ar­rest to be able to af­ford to keep their chil­dren in school.

Le­banon needs in­ter­na­tional in­vest­ment in liveli­hood pro­grams to cre­ate jobs and strengthen the coun­try’s econ­omy in order to ad­dress liv­ing con­di­tions that are cur­rently de­te­ri­o­rat­ing for every­one.

The World Bank es­ti­mates that the con­flict in Syria has cost the coun­try $13.1 bil­lion since 2012, Le­banese of­fi­cials said in Fe­bru­ary. The im­pact of the con­flict on Le­banon is real, but the refugee pres­ence is also an op­por­tu­nity to use in­ter­na­tional at­ten­tion as well as fund­ing to bol­ster the coun­try’s weak in­fra­struc­ture and lim­ited ser­vices.

In the ed­u­ca­tion sec­tor, in­ter­na­tional fund­ing is al­ready im­prov­ing a pub­lic school sys­tem that strug­gled even be­fore the cur­rent refugee cri­sis, when only 30 per­cent of Le­banese fam­i­lies chose to send their chil­dren to pub­lic schools. Donors are fund­ing projects to re­ha­bil­i­tate schools, train teach­ers, and last year cov­ered en­roll­ment fees for 197,000 Le­banese chil­dren.

Other coun­tries host­ing Syr­ian refugees have de­vel­oped plans to stim­u­late eco­nomic growth. For ex­am­ple, on July 12, the Euro­pean Coun­cil ap­proved a mea­sure to im­prove Jor­dan’s ac­cess to the Euro­pean Union (EU) mar­ket by re­lax­ing the EU rules of ori­gin for 10 years, with the goal of cre­at­ing 200,000 jobs for Syr­ian refugees. This would al­low them to con­trib­ute to the econ­omy with­out com­pet­ing for jobs with Jor­da­nian cit­i­zens.

At a ma­jor donor con­fer­ence in Lon­don in Fe­bru­ary, Le­banon pro­posed sev­eral projects to bol­ster the econ­omy and cre­ate jobs, in­clud­ing through in­vest­ments in mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties and na­tional-level in­fra­struc­ture. It also ac­knowl­edged the need to re­view ex­ist­ing res­i­dency and work reg­u­la­tions for Syr­i­ans, but so far, lit­tle has changed.

There is a real need for pri­vate sec­tor en­gage­ment with in­ter­na­tional donors, hu­man­i­tar­ian agen­cies and govern­ment of­fi­cials to de­velop in­no­va­tive solutions to the liveli­hood prob­lem in a way that im­proves the liv­ing con­di­tions of Syr­i­ans and their host com­mu­ni­ties while ben­e­fit­ting the coun­try in the long term.

It’s in Le­banon’s best in­ter­ests to en­sure that a quar­ter of a mil­lion chil­dren are not left out of school here but can get an ed­u­ca­tion and de­velop the tools they need to even­tu­ally re­build Syria. This is also an op­por­tu­nity for Le­banon to at­tract in­vest­ment and bol­ster ba­sic ser­vices and in­fra­struc­ture, all the while en­sur­ing that Syr­i­ans can af­ford to send their chil­dren to school.

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