Ahmed* is a 21-year-old medical student from Iraq. The crisis in his country forced him to flee his home with his family last year and abandon his studies. A bright and compassionate person, Ahmed wants nothing more than to return to university and finish his studies so he can become an anesthesiologist.
Fatima* is bright 16 year old girl from Syria who has not been able to attend school for more than one year as her family made the journey from Aleppo to Greece. Even though her city has become a warzone, she told me that she wants to go back, just so she can go back to school.
Both Ahmed and Fatima are stuck in a prison camp in Greece, with no access to education or development. The current refugee crisis is creating a “Lost Generation,” a group of young people whose lack of access to education is not only a denial of their basic rights, but is creating a surge in child labor, forced marriage, and radicalization.
In the four months that I have been working with refugees in Greece and Turkey, I have encountered so many children who, though they dream of getting an education and having a better life, are unable to even write their names. According to a recent report by Save the Children, more than 1 in 5 school-aged refugee children currently in Greece have never been to school, while Syrian children have spent an average of over two years out of the classroom. Recent reports have shown that only 30 percent of Syria children living in Turkey have access to educational services.
The impact of conflict on children is not limited to those whose families have fled to Europe, however. Approximately 2.8 million children in Syria are not in school and 1 in 5 schools in Syria have been destroyed or are being occupied by military forces.
The response of the international community to the current refugee crisis has been lacking in many ways, but the response to the education crisis is particularly inadequate. There is hope, however. The Greek government recently announced that it will implement educational programs in refugee camps across the country this summer, with the goal of implementing full-time educational programs by the fall. Turkey has announced its goal of enrolling all Syrian refugee children in school over the next year.
My experiences in Greece and Turkey have made me incredibly skeptical of these promises, but the recent shift of focus by the United Nations Refugee Agency to education gives me reason to hope. Countries such as Sweden and Germany, where many refugees have sought asylum, are slowly introducing educational initiatives to help young people integrate into their new country and society.
Providing access to education is one of the most important and effective things that can be done for the children of the refugee crisis. Education promotes social cohesion, fosters self-reliance, and provides children and their families with a hope for the future, something that is especially important to those living with the uncertainty of war and displacement. I hope the governments of the world will realize the importance of education for young refugees so that young people like Ahmed and Fatima, and millions like them, will be given the chance to reach their full potential.
*Names have been changed to protect privacy