NEW YORK CITY, United States – Former UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown appeared before the UN General Assembly this past week and urged the international community to contribute $500 million to educate Syrian refugees in Lebanon.
Brown presented a report prepared by the Overseas Development Institute for the charity A World at School, which aims to provide education for children without access to schools. According to the report, the burden placed on Lebanon by refugee children could be compared to the city of London having to accommodate every student in Birmingham and Manchester.
“Now, 300,000 Syrian refugee children in Lebanon could be the first trapped in conflict zones to be granted a universal right to schooling,” Brown said to the UN.
Brown hopes to implement a plan that would not only provide education for Syrian refugees, but also create jobs and fight hunger. The money would be used to hire Syrian refugees to teach in community colleges and provide in-school meals. This goal is unattainable unless the international community takes more charitable initiative.
“This can happen only if the international community, which has so far financed less than 30% of the humanitarian needs of the Syrian people, offers an additional $500m over three years,” Brown said.
Although Lebanon has made a concerted effort to accommodate Syrian refugees in its schools, the country cannot continue to withstand the pressure without international aid. It is estimated that the number of Syrian children taking refuge in Lebanon will increase to 500,000 by next year. The Guardian reports that, within the next year, two million children will have had their schooling affected by the civil war.
“If these children suffer the typical exile of children in conflict, they could spend 10 years in camps and tents, making their generation one without education,” Brown said.
According to The Independent, nearly 30,000 Syrians were enrolled in Lebanon’s 980 public schools last year. This was a 20% increase from the existing school population in Lebanon. Despite Lebanon’s efforts, less than 10% of Syrian refugees residing in Lebanon are currently enrolled in schools. The country hopes to increase the enrollment of Syrian refugees to 90,000 for the current school year, but must rely on foreign aid to accomplish this goal.
“If Lebanon’s refugee children were a country, they would have the world’s lowest enrollment rate,” Kevin Watkins, director of the ODI, said. “The international community has to step up to the plate.”
If the financial goals of the ODI are realized, Lebanon will keep its schools open day and night to accommodate the influx of refugees. Lebanese teachers and newly-hired Syrian refugee teachers will work in shifts to make this possible. The feasibility of this plan hinges on the willingness of the rest of the world to make substantial financial contributions.
– Matt Berg