The Syrian refugee crisis is reaching historic highs. According to the United Nations refugee agency, UNHCR, there are currently 3,102,334 refugees registered in surrounding countries and North Africa, with an additional 145,028 awaiting registration. This makes Syrians the largest refugee population under UNHCR care and the second largest in number only to Palestinian refugees, who have been under the care of a separate UN agency, UNRWA, since 1950.
Needless to say, such a massive crisis has placed enormous strain both on host countries and on service providers. As of 2 December, UNHCR has only received 59% of the funding it requested for 2014. Funding shortfalls have reached a breaking point. The World Food Programme (WFP), an organization under the United Nations system, was recently forced to discontinue a program that provided food vouchers to more than 1.7 million Syrian refugees in neighboring countries due to funding shortfalls. If WFP’s funding needs are not met as winter sets in, the program will stay closed, bringing disastrous consequences.
Amid such urgent funding shortfalls, however, a quiet crisis is brewing. Syrian refugees’ access to education has plummeted since the beginning of the crisis. Some 90 percent of Syrian children and youth between 6-17 years old are believed to be out of school. Syrian refugee youth, and would-be students, face a number of challenges in surrounding countries. From dropping out, to prohibitive costs, to full schools teaching foreign curriculums, aspiring Syrian refugee students face a long road to attaining even primary-level education. The result? As of September 2013, some 80% of Syrian refugee youth were out of school in Lebanon and 56% out of school in Jordan. The long-term effects of such a drastic demographic setback have the potential to severely damage the fabric of Syrian society. Lack of access to education can intensify gender inequalities and upset social cohesion and may exacerbate the already pervasive problem of high youth unemployment in the region. Investing in the education of Syrians today is a crucial first step to rebuilding Syrian society in the future.
UNICEF, the UN organization dedicated to the humanitarian needs of children, has been working to reverse this and other disturbing trends. However, it too has been affected by the severe funding gaps suffered by the entire UN system. As of June 2014, UNICEF had only received 40% of its required funds. In the midst of these massive UN funding shortfalls, Syrian nationals are taking action to fulfill the needs of the refugees themselves through a number of new non-governmental organizations (NGOs).
This year, Students Organize for Syria (SOS) at Columbia will be fundraising for one such organization, Jusoor. Jusoor, Arabic for ‘bridges’, is an NGO started by a group of Syrian expatriates working to mitigate the education crisis among Syrian refugees in Lebanon and is in the process of expanding their program into Jordan and Iraq.
Jusoor has been working with Syrian refugees in Lebanon since June 2013 and currently runs three educational centers serving about 1,200 children. The Refugee Education Program seeks to ensure that Syrian refugees in Lebanon have a holistic primary school education through integration into formal schooling whenever possible, introducing contextual curricula, and providing a strong psycho-social support.
Through its Scholarship Program, Jusoor helps Syrian students looking to complete their studies abroad attain academic scholarships at top universities across the US, Europe and the Middle East.
Jusoor’s Mentorship Program offers academic advice to students seeking help in their university application process and more information on academic choices. The program connects expatriate Syrians and volunteers with highly ambitious students in Syria to provide coaching and mentoring throughout their various application processes.
You can contribute to SOS’ fundraising campaign for Jusoor here.