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Gareth Bayley

UK Special Representative for Syria

Part of UK in Lebanon UK in Turkey

27th October 2016 Istanbul, Turkey

To the children inside Syria

In August, the former British Ambassador to Lebanon Tom Fletcher wrote an open letter to the children of Syria apologising for the international community’s failure to fully fund education for Syrian refugees. The letter was also a call to action to ensure donors who made pledges at the Syria London Conference in February honoured their commitments.

In this blog post, I want to focus on the 5.4 million children in need still inside Syria who continue to go to school amidst the most unimaginable violence and loss; their teachers, who risk their lives every day to protect the right to education, often unpaid and without resources, and their parents, who make innumerable sacrifices to ensure their children learn.

Syria has suffered the largest reversal of education progress ever recorded. 1.75 million children are out of school – one of the worst enrolments rates in the world – as a direct result of the conflict, and 1.35 million are at risk of dropping out. Schools are under attack and no amount of international condemnation seems to stop the daily barrage of bombing that targets schools and education facilities. At least 4,000 schools have been hit by airstrikes since the conflict began in 2011. 1 in 3 schools have been damaged, destroyed or can no longer be used and Syria has lost 22% of its teachers.

What the violence means in reality is the father of a teenage girl being killed by an airstrike as he waits for his daughter outside an exam centre; a twelve year old boy forced onto the battlefield for a day’s pay instead of going to school; children picking through the rubble of their shattered classrooms to retrieve their pens in the hope they will find a safe school elsewhere. This week, a savage attack on three schools in Idlib killed at least 26 people including 20 children. In Aleppo City, 200 of the 400 people killed since the renewed offensive are children. This is tragic, callous and a clear violation of International Humanitarian Law. No one can deny that a generation of children inside Syria are being deprived of the skills, normalcy and well-being school provides, and that this jeopardizes the future of Syria and the region.

Despite a situation that seems hopeless, the international community can act. First of all, the international community must continue to publicise and condemn attacks on schools. Second, we must continue to support education in Syria. Children who are still in Syria desperately need support, and despite the dire circumstances in which they live, delivery of education is still possible. As Tom highlighted, the UK has met the commitment we made at the London Conference, but despite this, the Syria education response remains severely underfunded with over 60% of needs unmet. With additional resources, access to education inside Syria can be expanded – Syrian NGOs, CSOs, INGOs and local institutions such as the Education Directorates are standing by with courage and tenacity to deliver.

That’s what to do on education. Of course the conflict goes much wider, needing a complete response from the international community: violence has to stop; humanitarian access has to be continuous and unimpeded; detainees and the missing must be returned to their families. None of this feels like it will happen soon, yet we must work for it. And Syria’s children deserve our care most of all.

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