Schools not accessible for 400,000 Syrian children in Turkey

Human Rights Watch report states two-thirds of Syrian refugee children in Turkey unable to access education due to language barrier, social integration issues, and economic hardship

Photo by: Reuters
Photo by: Reuters

A refugee girl sits on board the Turkish Coast Guard Search and Rescue ship Umut-703 off the shores of Canakkale, Turkey, after a failed attempt at crossing to the Greek island of Lesbos, November 8, 2015

A report published by the Human Rights Watch has revealed that over 400,000 Syrian refugee children in Turkey do not have access to the education they are entitled to in accordance with international law.

Turkey, which hosts 2.2 million Syrian refugees, has been by far the most welcoming and generous country to externally displaced Syrian who fled their homes to escape the four-and-a-half-year-long conflict.

However, the 62-page report titled “‘When I Picture My Future, I See Nothing’: Barriers to Education for Syrian Refugee Children in Turkey,” which was released on Monday morning as the first of a three-part document, noted a number of obstacles faced by refugee children in integrating into the education system.

Over 700,000 Syrian refugees in Turkey are school-age children, but according to data from the country’s Ministry of National Education, only 212,000 Syrian refugee children were enrolled in public schools in 2014-2015.

While school attendance is high within the refugee camps, with around 90 percent of children in the camps attending school, only 25 percent of Syrian children outside the camps are receiving and education, the report stated.

According to overall data, two-thirds of Syrian refugee children in Turkey are not enrolled in school.

Despite Turkey implementing a new policy allowing all registered Syrian refugee children to attend public schools and charity-run “temporary education centers” in the country last year, the Human Rights Watch stated that issues such as the “language barrier, social integration issues, economic hardship, and lack of information about the policy” are preventing the children from gaining access to education.

Syrian refugee children attend class at a school for refugee children in Istanbul October 21, 2013.

The report noted that public schools offered a lack of Turkish language support for non-native speakers and even cases of school administrators rejecting school enrollment applications by Syrians without right.

Furthermore, the report claimed factors such as bullying and an inability to socially integrate were putting Syrian families off from enrolling their children in school.

The temporary education centres, despite offering education in Arabic, are also not widely available in areas around the country where there are a mass number of Syrian refugees, and are unable to take on a large number of students.

Tuition and transport fees for such centres also make it difficult for financially-strapped Syrian refugee families to afford sending their children to them.

“Failing to provide Syrian children with education puts an entire generation at risk,” Human Rights Watch worker Stephanie Gee said.

“With no real hope for a better future, desperate Syrian refugees may end up putting their lives on the line to return to Syria or take dangerous journeys to Europe,” she added.

Human Rights Watch also urged Turkey to overcome these obstacles in order to reduce the risks of children being forced into early marriages and falling prey to militant recruiters, as well as improve their economic conditions in the future.

Many Syrian refugee children have been out of education for a number of years, having first faced disruption to their studies up to four years ago when their schools were destroyed in Syria, according to a separate Human Rights Watch report in June 2015.

The previous report, for which 136 Syrian refugee children and relatives outside the camps were interviewed, provided evidence of children as young as 11-years-old being forced to work over 12 hours a day, seven days a week in order to support their families.

All together, 3 million Syrian children around the world are unable to attend school as a result of the war, whereas before primary school enrolment in Syria was at 99 percent, data collected by UNICEF states.

Turkey’s Ministry of National Education said it hopes to raise the number of Syrian refugee children enrolled in school to 270,000 by the beginning of 2016 and 370,000 by the end of the current school year.

Having already spent a stated $252 million to integrate Syrian refugee children into the education system in the previous school year alone, Turkey has spent a total $7 billion to help refugees in the country since the beginning of the war in 2011.

However, Turkey has also been calling on the international community to help deal with the crisis.

With around 6.7 million Syrians externally displaced due to the war, which has left another 5 million displaced internally, many Syrians living in Turkey are thinking of making the dangerous voyage across the Aegean Sea to Greece, from which they plan to trek to richer EU countries to seek asylum.

Currently, Turkey treats Syrian refugees living outside the camps as “guests,” but does not grant them the necessary work permits allowing them to seek a livelihood in the country.

This leaves many Syrian refugees susceptible to exploitation by employers, who pay them below minimum wage and often rely on child labour.

Such conditions leave many of the refugees with no choice but to seek better opportunities elsewhere. Already hundreds of thousands of refugees have entered this year alone, most of whom are Syrians.

While the war in Syria has triggered Europe’s worst refugee crisis since World War II, hundreds of refugees have drowned in the Mediterranean while crossing its choppy waters in overcrowded, rickety boats provided by human traffickers.

“Refugees’ rights should be respected not only when they first cross a border seeking safety, but also throughout their experience of being displaced, and that includes their right to education,” Gee said.

“Donors and the Turkish government should ensure that Syrian children are in school to provide them with stability now as well as to safeguard their futures in the long run.”

TRTWorld and agencies