By Giulia McPherson, Director of Advocacy & Operations at Jesuit Refugee Service/USA
Last December, I traveled to Lebanon to visit Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) programs that serve Syrian refugees through education, learning support and psychosocial assistance. I saw lives that were being transformed through the power of education – parents who were so thankful to have a safe place to send their child to school, and students who were excited at the opportunities an education could provide for them.
Yet, after much attention that has been placed on the Syrian refugee crisis, and with the Syrian conflict escalating in recent weeks, the gaps in access to education were clear. While significant strides have been made to enroll students in Lebanese public schools, and early childhood education is being prioritized through programs like JRS’s, many young people are being left behind.
A new report by JRS/USA – Protecting the Promise of a Generation: Education for Refugees and the Forcibly Displaced – outlines the global scope of access to education for refugees and places a spotlight on the needs of refugees in Lebanon.
In Bourj Hammoud, outside the Beirut city center, JRS hosts a Youth Club for adolescents, many of whom are out of school. Although exact figures are difficult to obtain, it is estimated that only about 4 percent of Syrian refugees are enrolled in secondary school in Lebanon. Indeed, some of the young people I met with told me how they are working to help support their families. Or, often in the case of young girls, they spend their days at home with nothing to do.
Our recommendations for policymakers, donors and other decision makers are in line with those endorsed by the Promise Practices in Refugee Education community, including meeting the distinct needs of refugees and strengthening inclusive national systems. In addition, while education must be prioritized in humanitarian response efforts, these efforts must also stay on course, regardless of the possibility of repatriation or resettlement.
In 2016 and 2017, donors came together in London and Brussels to discuss how to support Syrian refugees and the countries hosting them. Commitments on jobs, education and protection for Syrian refugees were made, including a commitment to ensure that all refugee and vulnerable children in host communities would have access to quality education by the end of the 2016/17 school year.
Yet, according to UNHCR, only 25 percent of funding required to meet the educational needs of refugees in Lebanon has been received. Further, the Ministry of Education in Lebanon notes that only 47 percent of its 2018 work plan has been funded.
It is critical that prior commitments made to address the gap in access to education are tracked and donors, and others, are held accountable. As donors re-convene for the Supporting the Future of Syria and the Region Conference in Brussels later this month, education must be a priority. We look forward to joining partners, and fellow advocates, in calling on participants in the Brussels Conference to make turn these promises into reality.
JRS works in more than 50 countries worldwide to meet the educational, health, psycho-social and emergency needs of refugees and other forcibly displaced persons.