UN envoy for education unveils plan to get 1 million Syrian children in school in 21 days

Girls in Damascus, Syria, shown in their classroom with school bags and stationery supplies they received from UNICEF and partners. Photo: UNICEF/Tomoya Sonoda

10 September 2015 – With more than 4 million children having left Syria – half of them for Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey – in a “crisis of biblical proportions,” the United Nations Special Envoy for Global Education today said $250 million could get 1 million refugee children in school by the time the UN General Assembly meets later this month.

“While the recent focus has rightly been on refugees entering Europe, there are 4 million refugees – 2 million of them children – who are holed up in Jordan, Turkey and Lebanon, many living on the streets in a crisis which is now of biblical proportions,” Gordon Brown told reporters at UN Headquarters via telephone.

The former British Prime Minister drew attention to the fact that “traditionally education has fallen through the net because humanitarian aid goes to food and shelter, and development aid does not plan for emergencies.”

But given the “severity” of the crisis and “urgency” to act to address the problem, Mr. Brown appealed for a swift response to a $250 million proposal that would get 1 million Syrian refugee children in school in 21 days in Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey using a “double shift system.”

He explained that under the proposed plan in Lebanon, for example, the local children would go to the school in the morning and the same classrooms would be used for Syrian children to get an education in the afternoon.

At a cost of $10 a week, he said, the children can get an education that would help prepare them for the future and give them hope under this “practical, operable and deliverable plan.”

And in a separate warning about the Syrian child refugee crisis, the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) said the conflict in Syria has left some 16 million people – almost half of them children – in need of life-saving assistance and protection, including basic health care, safe water and sanitation and education.

“The refugee and migrant crisis in Europe will only worsen if greater efforts are not made to end the protracted conflict in Syria and address the humanitarian needs of the millions affected by the violence,” UNICEF said.

UNICEF reported that some 2 million children are now out of school inside Syria, while up to 5 million people living in cities and communities across the country have suffered the consequences of long and sometimes deliberate interruptions to their water supplies in recent months.

Despite the enormous challenges facing those affected by the conflict, funding for humanitarian assistance is not keeping pace with needs – UNICEF’s appeal for 2015 for programmes in Syria and surrounding countries, totalling $903 million, is less than half funded.

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