U.S. Syria Response Needs to Include Education
by Dan Boyer, A World at School
For over four years now, discomforting images and stories of entire neighborhoods leveled by bombs, of families mourning children taken too soon and of thousands of refugees leaving everything behind have served as daily reminders of our failure to end the conflict in Syria.
Images of lifeless Syrian toddlers like Aylan Kurdi remind us that it is the most innocent and vulnerable who suffer the worst from this failure. As we watch, every day thousands more refugees join the 7.6 million internally displaced and 4 million refugees creating the largest refugee crisis since World War II.
Few understand the increasingly desperate plight of these refugees better than those in neighboring Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan. These three neighboring countries are intimately tied to the conflict and have welcomed millions across their borders. The challenges these countries face – economic, political and humanitarian – in hosting these refugees, are tremendous.
In Lebanon, where one in four people are now a Syrian refugee, incredible stress has been placed on infrastructure already weakened by decades of conflict. Turkey, already hosts the greatest number of refugees in the world, and has spent over $7.5 billion dollars to date to provide critical services to Syrian refugees who have sought refuge within it’s borders.
Recognizing that the average refugee is now displaced for 17 years and that education is the foundation for stability and peace – perhaps the only solution to counter disenfranchisement and extremism – each of these countries has developed a plan to provide education for Syrian refugee children.
The plans, which include opening public schools in a double shift system – local children attending in the morning and Syrian refugee children in the afternoon – have already enrolled 106,000 Syrian refugees in Lebanon, 129,000 in Jordan and 227,000 in Turkey. Yet despite this success, availability of actionable plans, and commitment from host governments, budget shortfalls totaling over $115 million still leave over 800,000 children out of school in the three countries.
Last week, leaders from these three countries, having sounded the alarm for years that we would arrive at our current state if we did not take action, once again implored the international community to help shoulder their burden at the 70th annual United Nations General Assembly in New York City. President Obama, addressing the United Nations General Assembly affirmed that “there are no easy answers to Syria” but did not discuss the education at all — the need for it, the hope it can bring and the role it must play in creating peace and rebuilding.
Fortunately, long before all of pomp and circumstance of the UN General Assembly, before the world knew Aylan Kurdi’s name, some leaders in Congress were thinking ahead about education in relation to the crisis in Syria.
The International Basic Education Caucus hosted a briefing on refugee education for Syria on Thursday, 8 October.
The ability of the Caucus to get in front of this issue and to meet it head on is not insignificant. It reflects an understanding that we must do more, immediately, to avoid the long-term consequences of a “lost generation” of Syrian children. It is a glimmer of hope in an overwhelming insufficient response to the plight of the Syrian people.
Investing in the education of these children, underpins all U.S. efforts to spread freedom and stability, promote economic growth and alleviate poverty globally. The U.S. must work to allocate resources to support current efforts to find solutions that bridge the gap between short-term humanitarian and long-term development aid and must invest in the plans that promise to provide education for children now in the three countries bearing the heaviest burden.
Dan Boyer is a Senior Project Coordinator at A World at School.