With the conflict worsening in their home country and no hope of returning any time soon, nearly half a million refugee Syrian children in Turkey do not attend school regularly, Human Rights Watch said in a new report released on Monday.
Within the Turkish-run refugee camps, 90 percent of school-aged children attend classes, but, the report indicates that those children make up only 13 percent of school-aged children in Turkey.
“Overall, less than one-third of the 700,000 Syrian school-aged children who entered Turkey in the last four years are attending school — meaning approximately 485,000 remain unable to access education,” reads the report.
Researchers highlight the reasons why so many Syrian children, who have been showing up in Turkish refugee camps and cities since fighting broke out in their country in 2011, do not have access to education.
According to the UN's refugee agency, Turkey has hosted more refugees from the region on its own than any other single country, which has strained its resources. That, combined with a shortage of language programs that could help children integrate into the Turkish school system as well as a dearth of Syrian teachers has compounded the crisis.
This, says the report, leaves children vulnerable to exploitation in situations where they find themselves working rather than attending school.
While the report is somewhat critical of Turkey — it is ultimately responsible for the education of refugee children there, it asserts — there is an acknowledgement of the efforts made in the face of such a massive and ongoing crisis.
“I do think that the issue has been growing for several years,” said Stephanie Gee, a DC-based HRW researcher who worked on the report.
“At the start of the crisis there was a perception that the refugee population would be there for a short time — they did not anticipate the scale the of crisis coming and it took some time for them to get their footing,” she added.
The international community could help by providing more funding to Turkey in coping with the crisis, but Turkey can also help by allowing Syrian teachers to legally work in Turkey.
At present, Gee said Syrian teachers are not allowed to work in Turkey, so the UN and the government provide for a small financial “incentive” in lieu of a salary, which is not enough to cover expenses for most.
“Highly qualified teachers don’t see an opportunity to educate the children while earning enough to provide for themselves and their families,” said Gee.
Still, Gee said that it took until 2014 for the country to change its policies toward the Syrian refugees in general, seeing them as people who needed protection rather than being “guests.”
She describes Turkey’s response, overall, as being “enormously generous” and praises the country’s “tireless approach” in building camps and providing for the refugees with limited resources.
This situation has prompted teachers to leave Turkey for EU countries along with Syrian families, who, said Gee, seeing the lack of opportunities for their children in Turkey, also see the dangerous journey as one worth taking.
In a September report the UN report estimated that more than 13 million children overall were being denied an education in the Middle East due to conflicts in the region.
Prepared by the UN’s children’s fund, UNICEF, the report indicated that one in four schools had been closed, damaged or destroyed.
“The lack of safe learning environments coupled with a number of other factors (unsafe routes to and from school, discrimination, insecurity, displacement, shortages of teachers and supplies) have meant that more than two million children are out of school and 446,000 are at risk of dropping out,” it said.
HRW’s Gee also told Al Jazeera America than in addition to the immediate concern, Syrian children missing or falling behind on education does not bode well for the future of the country.
“There is a risk of an entire generation not being able to rebuild their own futures or the future of their country,” she said.