Lebanon

By James Abate

Alia and Basma, both aged 12, tackle a maths question at a temporary school in northern Lebanon, set up by UNICEF and Lebanese NGO Beyond Association with the help of UK aid. Source: Russell Watkins/Department for International Development.

A formalized educational system within a nation is necessary not only to cultivate productive citizens but also to provide a structured system for children to realize how the world around them functions. The molding of children into educated adults by way of schooling is severely hindered, however, for refugees displaced by war or genocide.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) described the Syrian Civil War as “the biggest humanitarian emergency of our era.” Almost half of the causalities of the conflict are children, and millions of refugees continue to flee into neighboring Lebanon and Jordan. UNHCR reports that Lebanon, a country with a population of only around 4 million, houses 1.2 documented refugees within its borders. That number swells to an estimated 2 million when taking unregistered refugees into consideration. Within Jordan, 700,000 refugees have been granted asylum, with that number projected to increase to around 1 million by the end of 2015.

Education in the region provides refugees an indisputable opportunity for advancement far beyond mere survival. However, for the 400,000 Syrian children and young adults who are registered in Lebanon’s education system, proper education is a luxury; many of young refugees believe their dreams of attending school are a lost cause. The UN reports that, as of March, “in Lebanon, there are more school-age refugees than the entire intake of the country’s public schools” and of those refugees only 30% of them are receiving a proper education. While the Lebanese Ministry of Education has traditionally covered all costs for the various stages or cycles of education, the country is facing a massive crisis trying to accommodate this dramatic increase in enrollment.

Apart from the sheer magnitude of students now being placed into the Lebanese educational system, various linguistic, cultural, and curricular barriers continued to prevent Syrian children from receiving this necessary experience. In Syria, the curriculum for students is taught completely in Arabic, while in Lebanon many subjects are taught in French or English. Consequentially, Syrian children placed into this system face a massive language barrier. At the same time, teachers in the Lebanese schools are forced to delay curriculum to work on the basics of English or French with these students. Many Lebanese families have begun to pull their children out of the public school system in favor of private schools, despite the debilitating economic circumstances. Beyond just “soft” barriers, Syrian children have been known facing violence such as bullying and harassment within their schools. According to one Syrian mother, “her child, Mazin, was ‘humiliated and beaten’ at a Lebanese public school.”

Whether or not we blame the failing Lebanese educational system or the various NGOs and non-profits such as UNICEF and UNHCR who provide funding for refugee education, we must recognize the gravity of this lack of education for Syrian children in order to move forward. Not only does the lack of a formalized educational experience eliminates any semblance of normality or structure in a refugee’s life, but the lack of knowledge and liberal learning for Syrian youth also represents something even more detrimental to Syria’s future. In addition to being plunged into one of the worst civil wars of the past 25 years, Syria has now lost a generation. This generation will not be able to continue on to shape the post-war region and will not be able to restructure their homeland. It is indeed quite frightening to wonder about the future of this nation knowing that those who should have been the ones to lead lack the education to do so.

By Patrick Lim

Za’atari Refugee Camp in Northern Jordan, the country’s fourth largest “city.” It is home to over 80,000 refugees. Its main road – the “Champs Elysees” – is visible in the center of the picture. Source: State Department.

March 15 marked the fifth year since the start of the Syrian Civil War, a war that has claimed over 220,000 people and displaced millions more. This crisis has resulted in the international aid’s inability to keep up with the growing demand on the ground, sparking criticism from aid agencies and requiring the countries involved to the rethink the actions they should take.

The effects of the war are evident throughout the region: Lebanon and Jordan have welcomed almost two million refugees. In Jordan, a survey of 40,000 refugees found that two-thirds were living below the poverty line and, in Lebanon, half of the Syrian refugee population are living in insecure dwellings. The resources of both countries are being pushed to the limit and it is not certain how many more refugees they can support and for how much longer.

Why is there a lack of aid?

It is not only because of increasing number of refugees, but also the lack of action of the international community. A report entitled “Failing Syria,” which was signed by more than twenty aid agencies including Oxfam and Save the Children, criticizes the actions of states and their failure to implement resolutions 2139, 2165, and 2191 from United Nations Security Council. Resolution 2139’s provisions included: protecting civilians, increased humanitarian access and a comprehensive approach “leading to a genuine political transition that meets the legitimate aspirations of the Syrian people.” The report calls on all parties to ensure to “go beyond words and ensure that the resolutions are fully implemented.”

However, it is not only the lack of action on behalf of the international community, but also the difficulty of getting aid to the people that has not helped the situation.  According to the report, 4.8 million people reside in areas the United Nations define as “hard to reach.” For example, early March saw the arrival ofthe first aid convoy in Damascus in three months.

What should countries do?

Although it is crucial to meet the basic necessities of refugees now, it is equally as important to think of the future. There is not foreseeable end to the conflict and, as a result, refugee camps are starting to show signs of permanency despite the hopes of millions. Some fortunate families in Za’atari live in caravans, which demand concrete foundations. Furthermore, the main road of the camp is a bustling street with hundreds of shops. Azraq Camp has a well-stocked hospital and supermarket, and includes metal shelters for families.

Two trends should make countries think about distributing more aid to the urban populations. First, certain countries have made it more difficult for refugees to flee across their borders, citing national security reasons, especially with ISIS threatening to send fighters in disguise. As a result, many refugees may seek to escape without being officially registered, although this would deny them many benefits. These refugees would therefore settle in areas with access to benefits, such as cities, which is where the majority of Syrian refugees have settled in Jordan. Second, refugees have recently expressed a reluctance to live in the camps because of the rough conditions, despite having access to daily needs. Coupled with the lack of proper security in camps (Za’atari, for example, had many issues with uprisings and crime in its early days), these trends could cause the urban refugee population to swell even more, putting an ever greater strain on their already limited resources.

Countries must also find different avenues to distribute aid, with a special focus on Syria. Of the thirty-four border crossings in the country, only five are open for humanitarian convoys, nine are restricted, and the rest are closed.  Negotiating with the Syrian government to find more avenues into the country is an option that some countries are not willing to entertain. However, working with government officials, local law enforcement, or more local NGO representatives may open up more channels. This would certainly improve the present situation by limiting regional spillover while simultaneously bringing aid to the people rather than forcing them to flee to receive it.

Finally, Turkey has nearly 1.7 million Syrian refugees – the most of any country – and has spent $6 billion to help them, granting them access to free education and health care. Following Turkey’s lead, providing greater access to necessities and benefits is something more countries have undertaken and other should begin to explore. For example, the Netherlands welcomes thousands of Syrians every month; Canada and Germany are known for funding scholarships, even offering Permanent Residency to lucky recipients in some cases as well.

The refugee crisis that has arisen because of the Syrian Civil War is being called the worst humanitarian crisis since World War II. The world can neither continue to ignore this atrocity nor accommodate the present situation for much longer.  We, the international community, must help those in need and, more importantly, show that we have not given up on them and their future.

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By James Abate

Saint George Maronite Cathedral, Beirut. Source: Wikipedia

Superficially, the Lebanese Republic has become synonymous throughout much of the Western world as a Middle Eastern state with the ability for religious and ethnic diversity to not only exist but also thrive. In Beirut’s central district, Saint George Maronite Cathedral and the Sunni Mohammad Al-Amin Mosque tower side by side. Directly down the street is St. Georges Greek Orthodox Cathedral. Pictures of these monumental houses of worship are displayed proudly as a testament to Beirut and Lebanon’s commitment to religious diversity. However, what this picture and so many others fail to depict are the deep-rooted social stratifications that permeate Lebanese politics and society. Rather these images merely depict the hope for a modern, stable country despite the cracking foundation that Lebanon’s government has been built on.

Having an accurate census is essential to ensuring proper governance, economic management, and inclusive representation within a state. Despite this, Lebanon has not conducted a census of its population since 1932 and to date, despite internal pressures, fails to provide a proper and thorough account of its citizens. Upon the creation and takeover of Greater Lebanon in September of 1920, Colonial France saw this area as rich in culture with an aspect different to that of much of the rest of the Middle East: a majority Maronite Catholic population in a greater region dominated by Islam. The French colonial government of Greater Lebanon, however, began to govern areas outside of the vicinity of Beirut such as South Lebanon and Baalbek, areas dense in Muslims and in particular Shi’a Muslims. Despite this growth in area, the infamous census of 1932 erroneously concluded that for every six Christians in Lebanon, there are five Muslims without citing any historical evidence. This lack of historical record fails to conclude whether or not this census is accurate even in the early 20th century, largely due to the significant backing of Catholic and Christian citizens by the colonial government. In 1943, using key data from this census, the National Pact was formed; this unofficial agreement which guaranteed that the President of the Republic to always be Maronite Catholic, the Prime Minster to always be a Sunni Muslim, and the Speaker of the Parliament to always be a Shi’a Muslim. The envisioned “secular” state thus created a skewed power distribution favoring Christians. Thus, for almost a century, a colonial-backed census created the political, economic, and social underpinnings and tensions within Lebanon.

Fast forward to 2015. With the mass emigration of Catholics and Christians from the republic during the Lebanese Civil War lasting for almost 15 years and the Taif agreement in 1990, the demographics of modern day Lebanon have changed drastically from this original demographic polling. Though there lacks any formal data, it is roughly estimated that the total Christian population hovers at 40 percent of the population whereas as the Muslim population has become the majority, with Shi’a Muslims forming the majority within this figure. Despite these drastic changes in the social makeup of the Lebanese Republic, Muslims on average are far more disadvantaged: the birthrate ratio of Muslims to Christians is 2:1, and the poverty level is currently over 50 percent in three major Muslim cities (Akkar, Tripoli, and Tyre), a staggering figure in comparison to the 30 percent level in Lebanon as a whole. In the northern predominantly Muslim areas, only one in three children attend school at age 12. This poverty and lack of institutional resources for communities that have become the majority within their country is inherently reflective in not just the social stigma the outdated census has created but in their lack of representation politically. A new census explicitly detailing the true makeup of the republic would shake the governmental structure that has remained in place for almost a century.

On the other side of this argument is a controversial political reality: this new census may officially reveal that Christians are no longer the majority in a country that has hitherto bolstered their power. Ultimately, Christians could be subject to further marginalization and acts of violence similar to that of Iraq and Syria towards these minority populations. The religious diversity found in Lebanon is a large part of what makes the country unique in the region, despite majority-minority breakdowns. Examples of Christian persecution and subsequent exoduses can be found in nearby Iraq and Egypt with their Assyrian and Coptic populations respectively. The UN High Commission for Refugees estimates that about one-third of all Iraqi refugees are Christian, highlighting the high levels of discrimination these communities face. If there were a new Lebanese census and a subsequent change in the political tide, the now minority Christian communities as well as the smaller Druze community could be face severe persecution.

The prospect that Christian and minority religious groups may face if the political and social tide of Lebanon began to turn is horrifying. Nonetheless, recognizing that much of this republic’s economic and governmental problems rest in its faulty and misleading census and hierarchy will prove critical in taking the first step to address these underlying issues in the country. Lebanon must begin to shed its colonial power’s guise if it hopes to move forward in the coming decades. Too much of the Lebanese population clings to the French colonial era despite its independence more than five decades ago. Lebanon can truly live up to the dreams it sees for itself and can fill an empty hole for minority ‘inclusionism’ in the Middle East; however, the République Libanaise must begin to shed its colonial foundation, conduct a proper accurate census, and provide representative governance to become the true Al-Jumhūrīyah Al-Loubnānīyah.

References:
– http://crtda.org.lb/node/14464
– http://www.executive-magazine.com/opinion/comment/lebanon-census-new
– http://www.ipc-undp.org/pub/IPCCountryStudy13.pdf

By Terrence Kim

In only a few months the Syrian conflict will mark its fourth anniversary, regrettably marking the continuing calamity that has distorted a once colorful and blossoming nation into the harrowed and war-stricken land that it is today. The United Nations Refugee Agency estimates that by the end of 2014, 6.5 of 22 million Syrians will be classified as internally displaced persons, while over 2.5 million will have fled Syria as refugees. This struggle has displaced millions of people, while claiming the lives of over 190,000. While international aid organizations invariably endeavor in the minimization of casualties, their equally meaningful objective is providing educational opportunities for Syria’s youth. As war rages on, efforts to educate and nurture the generations that will rebuild Syria must endure.

The Syrian conflict was never meant to last this long. It was supposed to be a minor inconvenience of which some government, or some deity, was to resolve so that shopkeepers could continue selling their teas and coffees and so that teachers could continue shaping their tullab (students) into the country’s future doctors, teachers, lawyers, and parents. Months turned into a year and a year turned into four. Parents, backed by confidence in their imminent return to Syria, had initially scoffed at the idea of matriculating their children into their host-country’s schools. This mindset is causing students to be out of school for so long that re-admittance into public education is no longer an option for many. International aid organizations, such as the U.N., have been campaigning continuing education efforts for students into either host-country schools or specialized programs for refugee and displaced children.

The United Nations, in partnership with international aid organizations like Save the Children and Mercy Corps, launched the No Lost Generation Initiative (NLGI) about one year ago in October 2014. No Lost Generation calls for a $1 billion investment in expanding access to learning, providing a protective environment, and broadening opportunities for children and adolescents in Syria and neighboring countries. According to a UNICEF report on the war’s impact of the conflict in Syria, almost all of Syria’s children were enrolled in school and 5% of the country’s annual GDP was spent on public education before the war; with the conflict approaching four years, almost 3 million school-aged Syrian children are no longer in school.

For the children who remained in Syria, more than 18% of schools have been damaged, destroyed, or occupied by displaced people or military personnel. The lack of schools and perilous environment make getting to schools a difficult, off-putting struggle. And for the refugees who sought asylum outside of Syria, host governments are struggling to accommodate not only educational needs for children, but are also adjusting political and economic policies in dealing with rising costs of basic services, food, and rents.

So what has #NoLostGeneration accomplished a year into its inception? Note: the following reflects samples of rounded data gathered from No Lost Generation’s first year report.In Syria:

  • 440,000 more children in school over the last year than the previous year
  • 46% temporary learning spaces established inside Syria
  • 32 (of 4,200) damaged schools repaired
  • 1.5 million children in 14 governorates received school supplies
  • 350,000 students are engaged in school feeding programs
  • 550 teachers received psychosocial training
  • 70,000 children have received psychosocial support
  • 27,000 children have received life skills and vocational training, remedial secondary classes, and psychosocial support

Neighboring Countries:

–  489,000 student increase in formal and non-formal enrollment in schools
–  587,000 children have received psychosocial support
–  27,000 students are engaged in school feeding programs in Jordan and Iraq

Lebanon: ‘Reaching All Children with Education’ (RACE) committed to 413,000 Syrian students for the next three years by opening second shifts in public schools

  • Targets 630 high-risk Syrian and Lebanese children formerly associated with armed parties to the conflict
  • Psychosocial support
  • Activities on conflict resolution
  • <span “font-family:wingdings;mso-fareast-font-family:wingdings;mso-bidi-font-family:=”” wingdings”=””> Vocational training
  • Individual and group counseling
  • Access to health, legal, and protection services
  • Ministry of Social Affairs established decentralized national case management system which is the first tertiary-level child protection program in the country
  • 200,000 caregivers received psychosocial training
  • Doctors and nurses received training on clinical management of sexual violence

Jordan: public schools are operating on double shifts

  • Hygiene, recreation, psychosocial, and educational programs

Turkey: progress has been made in normalizing the status of Syrian refugee teachers

  • Strengthened capacity of local child protection actors
  • Child Protection in Emergency Training

No Lost Generation Initiative is an effort to not only rebuild childhoods, but to shape futures that will restore Syria into the bourgeoning nation it used to be. There are roughly 4.3 million children in Syria affected by the conflict and more than half of Syrian refugees are under the age of 18. The greatest victims of this conflict are indisputably the young and vulnerable who hold no say in any political agenda. These children are growing too old too soon. Innocence is lost as their lives are compelled into violence with Kalashnikovs forced into their hands to fight a war that is not their own. Political matters aside, the international community holds a fundamental responsibility to Syria’s vulnerable youth in promoting peace and providing aid through education initiatives. Education’s catalytic effect on children’s well-being and development may potentially be paving the path for peace, stability, and economic development.

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