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Syrians Struggle for Room in Turkish Schools

ISTANBUL: TURKISH ELEMENTARY school teacher Esra Sahin recalls welcoming a new eight-year-old Syrian refugee into her class at Fatih Sultan Mehmet Elementary School, one of many she has taken in thanks to a Turkish policy that grants access to education to Syrian children officially registered as refugees. The only problem was that the boy’s I.D. stated he was two years old.

Sahin, a dedicated and concerned teacher, spent hours correcting the error with Istanbul’s migration authorities. She worries, however, about how the Turkish school will cope with the challenge of incorporating another 100,000 Syrian refugee children into the Turkish school system by the end of the year.

Few Syrian students speak Turkish, and many have missed years of schooling and struggle with emotional scars from the war.

“It’s a big problem – teachers aren’t prepared to teach Turkish as a foreign language, let alone teach students who have had to deal with the trauma of war and upheaval,” Sahin says.

At the inaugural United Nations World Humanitarian Summit (WHS), Turkey’s efforts to educate hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees will be in the spotlight, as humanitarian organizations push for millions of dollars in funding to support children forced out of school due to crisis and conflict.

Turkey has taken a central role in the response to the Syria crisis, hosting close to 3 million Syrian refugees – more than any other country. Some 330,000 children are already enrolled in Turkish schools, according to the education ministry. But many are struggling. While those with the means have enrolled in Syrian-run private schools that operate outside of the Turkish system, nearly 500,000 children remain entirely cut off from the education system. Many have been pushed into early marriage or the labor market, while others sit in temporary homes or roam Turkish streets.

The summit aims to draw attention to the worst global displacement crisis since World War II – a crisis in which 4.8 million Syrian refugees have played a central role. While the conference will be global in scope, Syrian refugees will be in the forefront of the minds of world leaders, international organizations and NGOs.

Earlier this spring, the E.U. pledged up to 6 billion euros ($6.7 billion) to assist with the care of the millions of Syrian refugees in Turkey, including the provision of schooling. Yet even with the spotlight of the World Humanitarian Summit, it still remains unclear exactly how funding will be used to improve refugee education in Turkey. Money is short, says Turkey’s minister of education, Nabi Avci. And the “simple math” of aid per student means that even the billions of euros extended to Turkey this year will not be enough to bring every Syrian refugee child into the existing school system.

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