UN launches education fund for “lost generation” of refugee children

Originally published on EducationHQ’s Australian and New Zealand news sites (May 17 2016)

The United Nations will launch the first ever humanitarian fund for the education of refugee children, former British Prime Minister Gordon Brown announced on Monday.

The new Education Cannot Wait initiative is set to take centre stage at next week’s World Humanitarian Summit in Turkey, with the aim of reaching an estimated 20 million school-age refugees.

Speaking in his role as UN special envoy for global education, Brown said the number of displaced children missing out on an education was the “highest since 1945” and fast becoming a global crisis.

“This fund will be unique in many different ways,” he said. “We will be the first to bridge the gap between humanitarian aid and development aid. At present education falls through the net. Most humanitarian aid goes – as you would expect – to food and shelter, and development aid is long term and not geared to an emergency.”

The initiative, which is the first of its kind, aims to sustain school-age children for up to five years.

“We believe that this fund will offer young people hope,” Brown said. “Because when we ask ourselves what breaks the lives of once thriving young children, it’s not just the Mediterranean wave that submerged the life vest, it’s not just the food convoy that does not arrive in Syria, it is also the absence of hope; the soul crushing certainty that there is nothing ahead to plan or prepare for, not even a place in school.”

Figures from the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) show that education aid currently receives less than two percent of emergency funding.

Over the next five years, the fund will seek to raise $US3.85 billion ($A5.28 billion) from about 100 donors in the government and private sectors, while building on the recent Syrian refugee schooling initiative in Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan.

Education Cannot Wait funds will also assist children in Nepal, where 900,000 are out of school due to the 2015 earthquake and in South Sudan and Nigeria, where many students have been denied schooling.

Brown said it was expected to cost up to $800 million each year to send Syrian children to school in camps across Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan. But parents would be less likely to head to Europe if they believed their children could get an education closer to Syria.

“We must meet our responsibilities to those people who are in Europe, who are refugees and asylum seekers, but we must at the same time recognize the biggest problem and the biggest number of people who need help, particularly children who need help, are in the region themselves,” he said.

“And if we do not act they will become victims of child labor, child trafficking and child marriage and they will be a discontented generation of young people, a lost generation.”

By Sherryn Groch

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