The European Commission has started supporting a new program that offers cash to vulnerable refugee families in Turkey whose children regularly attend school. The program hopes to support the school attendance of 230,000 refugee children.
The Conditional Cash Transfer for Education program, implemented in partnership with UNICEF and the Turkish Red Crescent, will give families 50 Turkish lira ($14) per month for each student who regularly attends school, to help families with their children’s educational expenses.
“We are trying to reach Syrian families in need. Any Syrian family with at least one child can apply to the program, which seeks to bring students back to schools,” said Moatasem Sharif, Gaziantep regional coordinator at IMPR Humanitarian, a nongovernmental humanitarian organization that was promoting awareness of the program. (IMPR was subsequently closed by the Turkish government, for no publicly stated reason.)
Despite strong improvements in school attendance over the last year, progress toward getting more Syrian refugee children in school is needed, officials say.
Only about 39 percent of school-age refugee children and adolescents were enrolled in primary and secondary education in Turkey, 40 percent in Lebanon, and 70 percent in Jordan, according to “Missing Out: Refugee Education in Crisis,” a report by UNHCR. That means roughly 900,000 refugee children are not in school. (The attendance rate is even lower inside Syria, where 2.1 million children are believed to be out of school.)
Paying cash that is conditional on school attendance is a strategy that has been used in poor rural communities to influence household decisions about education. It has been tried in 30 countries around the world, including Brazil, Argentina, Mexico, Chile, and Morocco, but it is now being tried with Syrian refugees’ families. The new education project builds on the Emergency Social Safety Net program, which began last September and gives the most vulnerable refugees debit cards to pay for essential needs like food and shelter.
“Our moral duty is to save this generation of refugee children and invest in their future,” said the commissioner for humanitarian aid and crisis management of the European Commission, Christos Stylianides, in a statement.
The impact of refugees’ poverty on school enrollment and attendance is clear. Seventy percent of refugees are living below the poverty line in their host countries, according to a 2016 UNHCR report. That report focused on the experience of refugees and host communities in Turkey, Jordan, Iraq, Lebanon and Egypt and found that poverty and debt were growing. As a result, around 60 percent of Syrian families in host communities relied on money earned by children, who consequently dropped out of school in order to work, according to a report by Human Right Watch.
“The transportation fees are the first challenge for students that keeps them away from schools,” said Mohammed Al Masri, the education program manager at the Multi-Aid Programs in Lebanon, which educates children in informal schools. (See related article “In Rural Lebanon, Lessons for Children, and Humanity.”)
The situation is the same in Jordan, where the government has made public schools free to Syrian refugees. But many Syrian parents cannot afford school-related costs, such as transportation. There are no public school buses in Jordan.
International financial assistance has sometimes helped counter poverty pressures, but it has been inadequate and unpredictable. The World Food Program’s food voucher program, for example, has witnessed sharp cutbacks. The maximum value of the vouchers is now $14 per person per month for urban refugees in Lebanon and Jordan. The Conditional Cash Transfer for Education programappears to be one of the few programs designed to increase refugees’ income.