Back to school brings major challenges for Syrian children
As children in Ireland prepare to go back to school this week, getting access to education continues to be a challenge for thousands of Syrian children living in Turkey.
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The European Union is providing millions in funding for our education and e-voucher programmes in southeast Turkey, enabling vital lifelines of support for Syrian refugee families and children in the region.
The issue of immigration and migrating refugee populations continue to be contentious in the news across Europe. However, no country has borne as large a burden in relation to the refugee crisis as Turkey. Literally millions of Syrians have fled across the Turkish border since the war began over five years ago.
Of the 4.8 million people who’ve been forced to become refugees by the conflict, a staggering 2.7 million are now living in Turkey. In fear for the lives, they have left their ravaged homeland, often with only the possessions they could carry on their backs, and streamed across the border in search of safety for themselves and their families.
This has naturally posed massive humanitarian challenges for Turkey: how to find resources to cater for so many additional people in terms of shelter, food, health, and education – it is a burden too big to bear without international assistance and the help of aid agencies like Concern.
The EU is making a strong contribution to this effort through schemes like the Children of Peace initiative and by funding individual support programmes like our e-voucher scheme, helping to provide children with access to education and to provide vulnerable families with emergency financial assistance to cover the fundamental necessities of survival.
With over 50% of the refugee population in Turkey being children, education – and the loss of educational opportunity – is a huge humanitarian issue to be addressed. Concern is supporting the formal education of young Syrian refugee children in five temporary education centres set up by the Turkish Ministry of Education in the southeast of Turkey.
This work has been funded by the European Union’s Children of Peace initiative. Our aim is that all Syrian children are supported to access school as soon as they arrive. However, immediate access is not the norm for most Syrian refugees in Turkey, with the majority of children either out of school completely or experiencing significant interruptions in their schooling.
Souad* went three years before getting her three school-aged children into school. Although she arrived in Turkey from Syria in 2013, it was only in late 2015, when Concern’s education outreach team visited, that Souad became aware that the Turkish government had set up temporary education centres for Syrian children using a revised Syrian curriculum.
She had previously understood that education was only available in Turkish schools, difficult to access, and only for a fee. Her children are now among the 6,271 children (3,104 girls and 3,167 boys) that have gained access to education through this scheme in the 2015–2016 academic year alone.
Thirteen year old Hasna* is another one of the lucky ones. She’s just completed Grade 8 in one of the Concern and EU-supported temporary education centres run by the Turkish government. During the summer, she will be attending catch-up classes and Turkish language classes in the centres with other Syrian children.
Hasna fled to Turkey with her parents, sister and two brothers over a year ago. Initially they left their home in Syria for temporary refuge in another province, Antakya, but when their home was destroyed – and all the possessions robbed – they had no alternative than to respond to appeals from a family member to join him at a Turkish government refugee camp over the border.
Following 18 days sleeping rough at the border trying to cross into Turkey, however, they arrived to discover there was no space in the camp and they had nowhere to sleep. The stress caused Hasna’s father to suffer a heart attack which has left him disabled and unable to work. The family is now dependent on e-vouchers for the basics of survival.
Hasna’s mother longs to return to Syria and return to what had been a stable and financially secure life. But, she is happy at least that she is safe in Turkey, has her family close to her, and that her children are attending school.
From the very beginning, Hasna’s family prioritised her education, and that of her siblings, even as the family struggled to pay rent for their dilapidated house with no furniture. And thanks to the Children of Peace scheme, her education has not been interrupted as it has been for so many other Syrian children.
Despite strong Turkish government and donor commitment, over 50% of Syrian refugee children are still out of school in the southeast of Turkey. Many children stay out of education in order to support their families’ income. This is why – in addition to supporting the education projects – it’s so vital to also provide broader support to families in schemes like our ECHO-funded e-voucher scheme. Both Hasna’s and Souad’s families benefit from both – and undoubtedly this further protects the children’s opportunity for education.
We are working hard to ensure that the barriers to education for Syrian children in Turkey are removed. Continuing with ongoing support to the temporary education centres, we will expand our work in the upcoming academic year to target these barriers and urgently improve access for excluded children. The expansion will see the strong community outreach increase; the inclusion of cash vouchers linked with school attendance and the provision of safe school transport for poor families.
Catch up classes for those who have missed school or fallen behind will be supported, while the programme will work closely with teachers and schools through resource-provision and coaching to respond to the unique and urgent learning and psychosocial needs of Syrian children in southeast Turkey. We are also currently supporting 25,827 individuals through the e-voucher programme.
* names changed for security purposes
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