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Think tank report warns of a ‘lost generation’ in Lebanon ahead of UN meeting

Written by Kevin Watkins

The humanitarian response to the Syrian conflict has ‘fundamentally failed to address the education crisis facing Syria’s children’, according to a leading global development think tank.

In a report ahead of a key meeting on aid for Syrian refugee education, the Overseas Development Institute warns that failure to increase financial support will create a ‘lost generation.’ Reviewing enrolment levels, the report says that school participation rates among the 330,000 primary school age refugee children in Syria are just 12 per cent. “If Lebanon’s refugee children were a country, they would have the world’s lowest enrolment rate” commented the report’s author, ODI Director Kevin Watkins.

The report ‘Education without borders’ was prepared at the request of the United Nations Special Envoy for Global Education, former UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown. It will be presented to a meeting of donors in New York on Monday on the margins of the UNGA meeting on Syria. The report calls for a $165m per annum international action plan to put all refugee children in school, stating that current humanitarian funding provisions are insufficient.

Mr Watkins said:

“The international community has to step up to the plate, Syria’s refugee children have suffered enough. They should not lose their right to education.”

Among the facts in the report are

  • By the end of the 2013 the number of Syrian refugees in Lebanon is expected to hit one million, with around a quarter of these expected to be aged under 17.
  • Enrolment rates of Syrian refugees in Lebanon are under ten percent – three or four times lower than in global education laggards such as South Sudan or Eritrea.
  • Absorbing all refugees would be equivalent to a city like London having to cater for the combined school populations of Manchester and Birmingham; or New York having to cope with an influx equivalent to the entire school populations of Washington D.C. and Chicago.

The United Nation’s Special Envoy on Education Gordon Brown said:

Typically, children in conflict zones and broken-down states have been provided with food and shelter as refugees, but few receive any education. 

"Now, 300,000 Syrian refugee children in Lebanon could be the first trapped in conflict zones to be granted a universal right to schooling.

"If these children suffer the typical exile of children in conflict, they could spend ten years in camps and tents, making their generation one without education. 

"So our plan breaks through traditional barriers to education for child refugees: as well as keeping schools open longer, it includes hiring Syrian refugees as teachers in Arabic in community colleges and providing school meals to tackle hunger as we tackle illiteracy. 

"But this can happen only if the international community, which has so far financed less than 30 per cent of the humanitarian needs of the Syrian people, offers an additional $500 million over three years."