Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Long-term education plan needed for Syrian refugee women and children

By Andrea Moran

Six years ago this week, the Syrian Civil War began. 

Since 2011, the conflict has displaced over 11 million people, the majority being women and children. A packed room at the CSW event, “Empowering Refugee Women Through Education and Employment” on March 13th only reflected the urgency of the issue.

Fatimah, a Syrian refugee.

As the war continues, governments and civil society organizations are under pressure to find long-term solutions for refugee education and employment needs. As the conversation turns from temporary assistance to long-term integration planning, a myriad of challenges stand in the way: from inadequate NGO resources to conflicts in perception between EU nations about who is responsible for providing this assistance.


In Lebanon, a nation with over 1 million registered refugees, civil society and religious-based organizations are stepping in to fill gaps when the government can't provide financial or social services. The World Society of Christian Federations (WSCF) is one of those organizations, but funding is running out, said Mira Neimah, an Executive Member of the organization. At the end of the day, Neimah said, “(WSCF) has to remain a church and not a social service agency,” speaking to the mounting pressures to provide for so many with so few resources.

In Lebanon, refugees must "register" in order to be eligible for legal employment, education, and healthcare. Without legal access, many refugees are stuck in poverty. In 2015, Lebanon suspended new registration and put new registration policies in place that made it difficult for registered refugees to renew their status. Around 70 percent of Syrians in Lebanon lack legal status, as documented by Human Rights Watch's 2017 World Report.


The situation is Greece is also urgent, on a different scale.

Since Greek islands are frequently the first point of entry for many refugees crossing the Mediterranean, the islands are viewed as a “temporary” place, and therefore, refugees can only access informal education on the island. Greece currently has 63,000 refugees on its islands, and no long-term plan for their educational needs on the islands, Dr. Vasileia Digidiki, a visiting scholar at Harvard University's FBX Center for Human Rights. However, children can remain on the islands for over 6 months, and the need to provide formal schooling is crucial, she said. Formal schooling can provide a “normal education environment” for these children and help mitigate some of the destabilizing effects of forced migration, she said.

On the Greek mainland, despite suffering from a financial crisis, the Greek government is working to make public school accessible to refugees. The language barrier remains an issue for many Syrian refugee children, especially those who arrive with disrupted education and need to catch up. Despite these obstacles, the Greek government is trying to integrate the children.

The panel featured leaders from UNICEF to civil society organizations.

Higher Education

Long-term education planning is also crucial for adolescents, a group that can be overlooked by emergency education programming, which tends to focus on primary schooling, said Lisa Szarkowsi, UNICEF's Vice President of Humanitarian Emergencies and Executive Communications. However, as the war continues, and these children grow up, the need to provide vocational training and higher education is crucial to ensuring this population is able to build a future, and not fall victim to extremist recruitment or sexual trafficking and exploitation. Szarkowsi said the conversation about higher education is critical now, as the question turns to: “Where is this (programming) going next, as they’re getting older?”

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