By Hiba Salem, University of Cambridge.
With Syria entering its sixth year of conflict, the Syria Donors Conference – scheduled for 4th February in London – has never been more important. A few days are left before the conference tackles the challenging statistics of the millions of Syrians living in dire conditions and the vastly unmet funds required. A point of crucial importance is the educational needs of Syrian children and the longer-term implications of uneducated generations. The repercussions go far beyond the borders of refugee-hosting countries alone, making it a global concern.
The Syria Donors Conference, hosted by the United Kingdom, Germany, Kuwait and the United Nations, aims to address the long-term needs of Syrians within Syria and its neighbouring countries. The international community has annually contributed to supporting refugee-hosting nations in the Middle East, only to reach an amount that has repeatedly fallen short. Today, the inadequate response to the Syrian crisis has resulted in an alarming number of unsupported and out-of-school children exposed to varying forms of harm and exploitation. Within neighbouring countries, the conditions families face present challenging demands to the hosting nation and severe consequences to the livelihoods of children. Below are key ways in which Jordan has been affected by the refugee crisis and the implications they may hold globally:
Syrian refugees make up at least 10% of the Jordanian population
In a small country of just over 6.4 million people, at least 635,000 Syrian refugees have been officially registered (though reports have also indicated a high number of unregistered refugees in the country). Jordan has generously hosted refugees fleeing various conflicts over the past decades including a high number of Iraqi and Palestinian refugees, becoming the country with the second highest refugee-to-citizen ratio in the world after Lebanon. Jordan’s response plan for Syrian refugees has been designed to address the needs of those affected by the crisis. Yet, the huge and sudden influx of Syrian refugees in Jordan has changed dramatically the country’s demography: weighing down its economic, geographical, ans educational systems.
The Government has shown serious commitment in providing Syrian children with educational opportunities: establishing double-shift school systems, employing additional teachers, providing teacher training, and building new schools. While such efforts have improved schooling opportunities, it is estimated that over 40 per cent of Syrian refugee children in Jordan are still not enrolled in formal schools. Of these children, only 13 per cent attend informal or non-formal education. Over 41 per cent of public schools in major cities such as Amman, Irbid and Mafraq are now overcrowded. Lastly, at least 99 public schools run double-shift systems to accommodate for the large number of Syrian refugees and Jordanian students, impacting the quality of education for all as school hours are reduced and only basic subjects such as science and mathematics are taught. Refugee students who are currently enrolled are at great risk of dropping out due to the bleak living conditions, transportation costs and risks, and lack of psychosocial support.
Lack of formal work opportunities put Syrian children at risk, with global implications
One key point the Conference aims to discuss is the offer of hope to Syrians – through greater access to education and the creation of jobs. Today, Syrians in Jordan are unable to achieve a sense of independence and purpose as they are denied access to employment permits. This has resulted in families relying on depleted savings and donor aid as well as informal jobs. Often, it is children who have become the greatest victims and have been forced to take on heavy responsibilities at far too young an age. Negative survival strategies have forced children to become street beggars, boys to seek work, and young girls to become child brides. School has often become the last concern for parents who struggle to pay rent or feed their children. Additionally, children are more likely to find jobs, as they may face fewer penalties if caught. These conditions are likely to be found across the other neighbouring refugee-hosting nations including Turkey and Lebanon. While some scholars have acknowledged the need to view refugees as competent and skilled people with the potential of developing and enhancing undeveloped sectors and provinces of refugee-hosting nations, these discussions have yet to impact current regulations and official host government plans.
The phrase “lost generation”, one often associated with Syrian children today, is no longer just a possibility. With over 2.8 million Syrian out-of-school children today, the thinning vision of a promising future has great repercussions for the world and its future. Not only have child marriage and child labour become a norm for these families, children have become the main target of exploitation. Studies have also raised alarming reports of young boys recruited by armed forces in exchange of salaries for their families, many of whom have voluntarily joined due to a sense of uselessness. A generation of distressed and unsupported children continues to develop as the conflict prolongs with an inadequate response. This has the potential for global instability.
The Syrian Donors Conference has arrived at a critical time and has the potential to influence the long-term response plan and funding capacity for the Syrian crisis. As the international community prepares a plan of action, the educational needs of refugee children must remain a priority. Not only is raising sufficient funds crucial, but the creation of jobs offers independence and builds hope, a matter which is vital to allowing Syrian refugees to regain some normality in their lives. Failure to respond to these needs has already resulted in negative and alarming repercussions, and the risk of a ‘lost generation’ may hold great threat on a global scale for decades to come.
Hiba Salem is a Syrian national and doctoral student at the University of Cambridge. Her research interests focus on the education of Syrian refugees in host countries neighbouring Syria, principally the situation in Jordan. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
The next issue of NORRAG News will be on ‘Refugees, Displaced Persons and Education: New Challenges for Development and for Policy’ (April 2016).
NORRAG (Network for International Policies and Cooperation in Education and Training) is an internationally recognised, multi-stakeholder network which has been seeking to inform, challenge and influence international education and training policies and cooperation for almost 30 years. NORRAG has more than 4,500 registered members worldwide and is free to join. Not a member? Join free here.