By Joshua Stancil, TRACESONLINE.ORG, New York
The numbers are truly staggering: since 2000, a 41% increase in the number of refugees, with some 244 million migrants, refugees, and displaced persons on the move. Prompted by these numbers and the continuing crisis in Syria, the United Nations will convene in September a General Assembly High-level Meeting to Address Large Movements of Refugees and Migrants. In preparation for that meeting, the UN recently invited Rana Najib, Education Coordinator for AVSI’s $10 million operation Lebanon, to participate in a panel discussion and to share her experience. Before leaving New York and returning to Lebanon, Rana kindly sat down and spoke with Traces.
What are the main projects that AVSI is involved with in Lebanon?
We focus on education and the protection of children. We have been greatly aided in this by the Lebanese Ministry of Education, which has greatly facilitated the enrollment of Syrian children in Lebanese schools, and provided special programs for them.
How many Syrian children go to school?
Unfortunately, not many. Somewhere between 20 and 30 percent. According to our friends at UNICEF, approximately 377,000 Syrian children do not attend school at all. Plus there are other challenges. Around the age of 13 or 14, many children drop out of school to go work. We try to meet with the parents to emphasize the importance of education for their children; but poverty is very much an issue, and many parents prefer to have their children leave school and work to bring home some money. Another challenge is cultural: around the age of 13 or 14, some of the girls get married, at which time they leave school and their education ends.
By Teddy Ostrow
Rana Najib was living in Damascus, Syria with her family when the civil war started in 2012. She was working with a program connected to the European Union at that time, but two months into the war the program fell through because the EU pulled funding when Western nations sanctioned the Syrian government. She went to Germany to continue her studies, but decided to go back to Damascus to help her family during the war.
Luckily, the part of Damascus where she and her family resided was not under attack and leaving the country was actually an option for her. She started to look for work in Syria, but job offers were limited because of the war so she went job-searching in Lebanon, Syria’s neighbor. By chance, Associazione Volontari per il Servizio Internationale (AVSI), an Italian international not-for-profit, non-governmental organization (NGO), was launching an emergency intervention operation in Lebanon. She pursued an interview with the NGO and was eventually given a job.
La Voce sat down at the UN Headquarters in New York, to talk with Ms. Najib, who is now the Education Coordinator of AVSI’s present $10 million operation in Lebanon, and Maria Laura Conte, AVSI’s Communications Director, to discuss how they are handling the Syrian refugee crisis.
Lebanon now hosts approximately 1.1 million Syrian refugees, nearly one fourth of its population, trailing only Turkey, which hosts 2.5 million. Human Rights Watch released a report on July 19 showing that 250,000 of the approximately 500,000 school-age Syrians in Lebanon are out of school. This epidemic is in spite of the nation’s generous allowance of Syrian children to go to public school for free, regardless of their legal residency. Ms. Najib confirmed for us, however, that according to her UNICEFcolleagues the figure is much higher: “Now in Lebanon there are more than 377,000 children currently excluded from formal and non-formal education programs.” This is due to limited educational resources, refugees’ inability to pay for travel fees and school supplies, and Lebanon’s residency regulations which effectively bar most Syrians from renewing their residency permits.
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