Following are UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s remarks, as prepared for delivery, at a meeting with Syrian students, in Lisbon today:
I am so pleased to be with you. I want to thank the Chairman of the Global Platform for Syrian Students, Jorge Sampaio, for his leadership and his long-time commitment to build bridges of understanding and inclusion among communities around the world.
I want to thank all of you for sharing your stories and experiences. I commend you for your strength and resilience. I am greatly saddened and appalled by all that we see in Syria — the tremendous loss of life, the massive destruction and displacement. The United Nations is doing everything in its power to end the fighting.
I know that the global response often focuses on immediate needs — and yet a growing number of Syrian students are unable to pursue their dreams and aspirations of higher education. Of so many Syrian students who are now refugees, only a small percentage continue their education in exile.
My own experience is foremost in my mind when I meet students like you. When I was a young boy, my country erupted in war. My village came under attack and my family and I had to flee. My school was destroyed.
The United Nations came to our rescue. My school books came thanks to UNESCO [United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization]. The world’s investment in education made a world of difference in my life.
Throughout Syria, the war is taking a severe toll on education. Education is vital for the future of individuals, and for the future of a country. Higher education will produce the leaders and skilled workforce that countries need to move forward, in particular after crisis and conflict. It unleashes innovation and entrepreneurial skills that are important for economic activity and job creation, all critical for stability during times of reconstruction and for longer-term sustainable development.
I am encouraged that the World Humanitarian Summit in Istanbul later this month will provide an opportunity to highlight the importance of education in emergency situations. On 19 September, at the Summit on Addressing Large Movements of Refugees and Migrants, we will also have the opportunity to agree a much more generous and equitable responsibility-sharing by Member States in responding to the refugee crisis created by wars. This will include discussing the creation of more legal pathways, such as scholarship visas, which will allow young people to escape persecution and wars and continue their education.
The only sustainable solution to the education crisis in Syria is ending this horrible war. Until then, we must do all we can to provide young people with the educational opportunities that they and their countries need. Thank you for what you are doing to provide that platform for the future. I have no doubt that the expertise, skills and knowledge you will gain in Portugal will contribute one day to rebuild Syria.