Syrian refugee children at school in Lebanon Picture: Tabitha Ross
An urgent plan to ensure one million Syrian refugee children are in school by the end of 2016 has secured more than $250 million of new funding.
The money has come from the European Union and also in the Middle East region from private and public sectors.
The bold proposal aims to offer primary and secondary education this year to one million refugee children who have fled from the Syrian conflict to Lebanon, Turkey and Jordan.
Latest official figures show there have been more than 1.3 million Syrian refugee boys and girls in neighbouring countries, which also include Egypt and Iraq. Over 500,000 school-age children are already accessing education.
A United Nations appeal for Lebanon, Turkey and Jordan calls for $750 million in 2016 to provide education for well over one million refugees. The more than £250 million in new funding is the first installment towards that.
The funds are urgently needed, with more refugee children on the streets and child marriage rates already doubling among Syrian refugee girls. A recent survey estimated one in three boys and girls have become child labourers, often working illegally in unsafe conditions.
Syrian refugee children at a school in the Bekaa Valley, Lebanon
Gordon Brown, United Nations Special Envoy for Global Education, said today: "The death voyages to Europe will not fall but soar in 2016 as long as Syria’s six million displaced children and two million refugee children are exploited and denied any opportunity within the region.
"Child marriage rates among Syrian refugee girls have dramatically doubled from 12% to 26% and one survey suggested that one in every three boys and girls are now working as child labourers in the black economy.
"Unless we can provide chances for children, every day new families will decide the only hope for their children’s future is to leave for Europe.
"To end the exodus and exploitation, it is now urgent we agree a plan that will this year guarantee one million Syrian refugee boys and girls not just food and shelter but the chance of schooling."
The plan to provide school places for one million children builds on a successful pilot project in Lebanon under which 207,000 Syrian refugees have gone to school through an effective double-shift system which costs about $500 per child. Syrian children learn in the afternoon in the same classroom and buildings that locals use in the morning.
A World at School is campaigning to help one million Syrian refugee children into school. You can play your part by signing the Hope for Syrian Children petition and demanding that world leaders urgently fund education in emergencies.
Syrian schoolgirls at a school in Jordan Picture: UNICEF
A detailed plan of action was written last year by the charity Theirworld in conjunction with A World at School and the Global Business Coalition for Education after consultation with the governments of Jordan, Turkey and Lebanon.
The plan included three reports - one for each country - which warned that a lack of donor funding is leaving vulnerable children out of classrooms and at risk of child labour, early marriage, exploitation and extremism.
The newly-announced funding is the first instalment in the plan to raise $750 million. The aim is to move beyond one million to reach universal education for refugees by 2017.
Mr Brown added: "During my discussions with leaders of the Gulf countries, they have reassured me that they see the vital need to support the effort to get one million into school and they want to help. We now have a comprehensive plan backed by key donors.
"The plan has a wider significance as it is part of a vision to provide schooling for the world’s record number of displaced and refugee children - 30 million in total - by creating a new Humanitarian Operation for the Provision of Education in Emergencies: HOPE.
“Universal education is an impossibility unless we can meet the needs of children in conflict."
Mr Brown said a series of events at the United Nations, the World Economic Forum in Davos and the International Humanitarian Pledging Conference for Syria in early February would be used to try to raise the additional $500 million needed.