A recent UN report released on November 29, 2013, revealed that over half of the 2.2 million Syrian refugees are under the age of eighteen. UN High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres warns of the risk of a lost generation of Syrian children, as they face the harrowing effects of the Syrian conflict. These children are suffering psychological traumas and are often living in fractured families or with no families at all. On top of that, many children and youth must work in order to support their families, and countless of them do not have access to education. The largest populations of child refugees are in Jordan and Lebanon, with staggering numbers of 291,238 and 385,007 Syrian children respectively. In Iraq, which has a Syrian refugee population of over 200,000, there are 77,125 child refugees.
One of the biggest problems that they face is a lack of educational opportunities. International aid agencies, in collaboration with the Kurdistan Regional Government, are currently doing everything they can to enroll as many Syrian children in school as possible. In September, UNICEF worked with Iraqi children from the Classical School of the Medes in Sulaymaniyah to raise money through community events to buy school supplies, such as uniforms, books, and backpacks for school children in the Arbat refugee camp. In mid-November, UNICEF, UNESCO, and UNHCR came together to launch the “Back to School” campaign, seeking to create awareness surrounding the importance of a safe and protective learning environment for Syrian refugees in camps.
However, despite efforts such as these, there is still a huge gap in access to education for Syrian children. According to UN estimates, as much as 77% of Syrian school-aged children in Iraq are not enrolled in school. One obstacle that Syrian children face is that they come into Iraq while the school year is already underway, making it difficult for them to enroll. While the Kurdistan Regional Government has asked that all schools in the region allow school-aged refugees to register at any time throughout the year, this does not necessarily mean that these children and youth will enroll. Another challenge that prevents Syrian children from attending school in the Kurdistan Region is the lack of classes instructed in Arabic, leaving few spots compared to the large number of Syrian children. Organizations such as Mercy Corps and Peace Winds Japan have been working to build schools within the camps themselves. However, these schools typically fail to accommodate all of the children living within the camps. Moreover, these schools which have been built are usually primary schools, meaning that youths have little to no opportunities to continue their education.
Despite the efforts of various organizations to provide educational opportunities to Syrian children in youth in Iraq, access to education is still extremely limited. This is a major problem that, when compounded with the psychological trauma and familial losses these children and youth have suffered, has the potential to produce a lost generations of Syrians. While Iraq as a whole has high rates of education and literacy, the Kurdistan Regional Government and the refugee camps in the region simply do not have the resources to cover the large population of Syrian children and youth. To prevent the risk of a lost generation, education for refugees in northern Iraq needs to become a higher priority in the international community.