Providing a Future for Millions of Syrian Children

It takes only a few hours on a beach on the Greek island of Lesbos to understand the enormity of the current refugee crisis sweeping Europe and the many dangers that refugees face, including so many mothers and children.

 

On one typically busy day, our Save the Children staff counted 22 small rubber dinghies arriving in just five hours — filled with babies as young as three months old and adults as old as 76. While no Greek official was on shore to meet the refugees, volunteer aid workers, including Save the Children staff, were there to assist and guide them toward registration. The numbers of people arriving in Greece this year is staggering — up from 40,000 last year to 580,000 so far this year. During one five-day period last month, 48,000 new arrivals — or nearly 5,000 a day — came to shore.

 

I recently visited the north shore of Lesbos and talked with a number of refugee families arriving by boat. One woman I met from Syria was traveling with her little girl, little boy, and two brothers. Her husband was left behind in Syria and was hoping to meet them later. We helped guide their boat to the shore and pulled them out of the water, and she said she couldn’t believe they were alive. She was so cold and overcome by emotion, she shook violently. We wrapped her in a space blanket and one of our workers offered her his scarf. Slowly, as we gathered warm clothes for her children, she stopped shaking and even smiled weakly as her daughter showed off her warm jacket.

 

I also visited the two informal camps outside the island’s capital city of Mytilene, where refugees must register to continue their journey to Europe. One camp was originally for Syrians and the second camp for other nationalities, the majority of whom are from Afghanistan. Our staff met several teenagers making the trip by themselves. One boy from Afghanistan was traveling with a small group including four other teenage boys. They were trying to get to Germany, where one of the boys had a brother. No one knows precisely how many children are making this journey alone, but recent estimates put the number in the tens of thousands and is growing rapidly. Recent figures from the Serbian government, for example, show that nearly one in four refugee children arriving in Serbia in recent months have been unaccompanied.

 

While the international community continues to struggle to find a solution to the conflict in Syria, now approaching its fifth year with no end in sight, the sheer numbers of desperate Syrian citizens are staggering. Four million have fled the country and over 7 million have been forced from their homes but remain inside Syria.

 

Almost 3 million Syrian children are not in school, including half of those who have fled to neighboring countries. As Secretary of State John Kerry noted last week, “Imagine what it would mean for America’s future if the entire public school systems of our largest cities — New York, Chicago and Los Angeles — were suddenly to close and stay closed.” Schools, in fact, are among many public institutions that are in shambles. More than 4,000 attacks on schools have taken place in Syria since 2011, according to the U.N. Meanwhile, two of Syria’s neighbors, Lebanon and Jordan, are reaching their breaking point in assisting Syrian refugees.

 

What can we do? Save the Children has joined other major aid agencies in calling on national governments to adopt a bold new deal for refugees. In the short term, we need to provide much more support in the region in terms of food aid, employment, medical care and education so more refugees will not feel compelled to leave the region and reduce the current huge migration to Europe. In addition, we need to eliminate many restrictions that leave refugees living in limbo — in constant fear of arrest, detention and deportation.

 

We also need a special focus on children. Donors need to take additional steps to ensure that children are protected and educated. Otherwise, we face the prospect of helping create a lost generation of Syrian children. Investments now in education and protection for these children can pay enormous dividends once the war ends and rebuilding begins.

syrian children

In recent months, we have seen growing support from individuals and corporations to assist refugees. In early September, the worldwide dissemination of a photo of a little refugee boy drowned on a beach in Turkey helped people see this crisis as a human tragedy that is affecting tens of thousands of innocent children and their families. Our long-time corporate partners, such as Johnson & Johnson, stepped up their support for our humanitarian response for refugee children.

 

With the recent attacks in Paris, we are presented with very hard choices. Our sympathies, of course, are with the hundreds of families around the world who lost a loved one in the barbaric events of November 13.

 

But we can’t turn our backs on the Syrians who are also fleeing death and destruction in their country. By continuing to increase humanitarian support in Syria, in surrounding countries, and for the hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugee families, we are not only doing the right thing but are also providing a future for millions of Syrian children.

 

This post originally appeared on the Global Motherhood section of The Huffington Post

450,000 Children Out of School in Turkey

Sera

Sera Marshall

Communications Coordinator

Turkey

November 23, 2015

On September 28th, schools across Turkey opened their doors for the start of the academic year.

But nearly 450,000 school-aged Syrian children did not step into a classroom that day. Instead of sitting behind a desk, in a safe learning environment, you see many of those kids in cities across Turkey selling tissues on the roadside, running errands in stores or climbing into dumpsters to collect recyclable materials.

In Hatay, where our field office is located, you might see some in the fields picking the cotton harvest at this time of year.

Every child deprived of an education is at risk of becoming part of a 'lost generation'.

Even in the early days of the crisis that now engulfs Syria, many ordinary Syrians who fled to Turkey for safety recognised the need to address the lack of education facilities for their children. Ordinary men and women took it upon themselves to rent space, volunteer their time to teach, find desks, chairs and whiteboards all in an effort to ensure their children would not grow up illiterate, and instead have a future for their own families. 

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Vahar's* family fled their home in Syria when the town was attacked. She has not been able to go to school since she arrived in Turkey but is currently attending a Child Friendly Space supported by Save the Children where she has the opportunity to keep learning and meet new friends. *Name changed for protection

The Government of Turkey took a courageous step in 2014 and passed legislation that would bring these informally operating schools under the coordination of the Ministry of National Education. Currently 18,122 Syrian children are enrolled in 69 Temporary Education Centres (TECs) across Hatay province alone. The government of Turkey has shown unprecedented levels of generosity and hospitality – spending up to 8 billion dollars – on refugees from Syria and Iraq. Yet, this is only a small fraction of the overall need. Globally, education and child protection are the two sectors that receive the least amount of aid funding. Partners such as UNICEF and international NGOs like Save the Children are working to help bridge that gap.

But it is not as simple as throwing money at the problem. Meaningful understanding of the actual needs of refugee and host communities coupled with projects designed to address these needs are required. To this effect, we carried out a needs assessment of every Temporary Education Centre in Hatay and revealed a thorough yet stark picture of the varying challenges – from transport to textbooks – faced when trying to provide education to Syrian children.

As the crisis has deepened, the needs of refugees has evolved. It is no longer a matter of providing basic humanitarian relief but enabling refugees to live with dignity and, most importantly, hope for a better future.

I have visited several Temporary Education Centres in Hatay as part of our work. At one TEC, a soft spoken head teacher from Aleppo thanked me for the assistance Save the Children in Turkey was providing. This man is so dedicated that he works six days a week, up to 12 hours a day and has gotten into personal debt so that running water and electricity of the TEC would not be cut off. I could not help myself, I listened to his words of gratitude and told him: "No; thank you. "Without you, these children would not have been getting an education for the past three years. I am sorry the international community has been so slow to come to your aid."

"Better late than never," he replied.

To learn more about our response to the Syria crisis, click here.