Since the outbreak of civil war in Syria, the number of Syrians who have fled their country has risen to more than 4 million according to United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees - and nearly half of them are now in Turkey.
The government of Turkey has spent $6 billion providing shelter, food, health and education services to Syrians living inside government-run camps. However, about 90% of Syrians in Turkey live outside of these camps, without access to systematic services.
During a recent trip to the country, I saw families sleeping in parks or mosque grounds. I also had an opportunity to visit Dikmen Valley in Ankara, the Turkish capital, where some Syrian refugees live.
As we parked the car, a woman, her 3 daughters and 2 boys came out of the plastic barracks which they call “home”. Two of her daughters were barefoot. When I asked their mother how they make a living, she explained - with the little Turkish she knew – she collects garbage waste and her daughters help her. For them, education is luxury.
According to the 2015-16 Regional Refugee and Resilience Plan in Turkey (3RP)*, more than half of the Syrian refugees are children. It is estimated that 576,000 school-aged children (6-17 years) require access to education; some attend and some do not.
The report states that according to the Ministry of National Education’s (MoNE) circular on foreigners’ access to schooling: “Syrian refugees may access formal education through the national system or temporary education centres established in camps and urban areas, the latter offering instructions in Arabic using a modified version of the Syrian curriculum.” However, differences in curriculum in Turkish schools, as well as a lack of Turkish language skills by Syrian children remain a barrier to education.
A lawyer, working specifically on children’s rights, stated during an interview in Turkey that aside from the trauma of the war, Syrian children attending Turkish schools experience a secondary trauma as they struggle to fit in. In some instances, they are bullied by their Turkish peers and feel isolated. It has also been reported that some Turkish parents don’t want their children to attend school with refugee children due to worries about hygiene and public order.
Another major barrier to education is the cost of transportation. Families prioritise spending on basic needs and in most cases have their children work in factories, sell goods on the street and beg in public to supplement family income; I witnessed an explosion of the number of children selling goods and begging, especially in traffic, when I was in Turkey.
For girls, the situation is even more disturbing. Although polygamy is illegal in the Turkish Civil Code*, the practice of religious marriages, which are not recognised by the government, continue. It has especially increased among local communities in border areas, with the arrival of Syrian refugees.
Due to financial difficulties, families may choose to marry off their daughters to Turkish men
Due to financial difficulties, families may choose to marry off their daughters to Turkish men, sometimes as second or even third wives, with the hope of securing their future. According to a joint report* published by the Center for Middle Eastern Strategic Studies (ORSAM) and the Turkish Economic and Social Studies Foundation (TESEV) in January, there is a market surrounding these marriages. This trend is alarming as these girls will not have access to education and may quickly become mothers themselves.
Refugee crisis appeal
Last week, after this article was written, the world was shocked by the images of the 3-year-old Syrian refugee child, Aylan Kurdi, whose dead body was found on a Turkish beach.
Aylan has become an icon of the refugee crisis in Europe. He has also become the voice of all invisible refugee children in Turkey, and in other countries, who are struggling to survive yet alone receive an education.
We need the international community to take action immediately and respond to the refugee crisis in Europe and the Middle East. Children growing up without protection and education are being denied their human rights, and the world must ensure that these rights are upheld.
Plan International is helping Syrian refugee children and their families with child protection, education and psychosocial support in Egypt and through partner organisations in Syria, Lebanon and Iraq.
Please find out more and support our emergency response to the Syria refugee crisis
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