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Right to Education

What about the Palestinian school children in Syria?

Written by admin  •  Tuesday, 14.01.2014, 14:09

Before civil war broke out in Syria, the situation for Palestinian refugee school children in the country was already close to breaking point.

makeshift schools

UN schools spill over into playground tents

Nearly 70,000 young Palestinian refugees are registered in just 118 UNRWA schools, the UN agency dealing with refugee affairs. With the number of pupils growing yearly, resources had become severely stretched. Schools were often operating on a double, if not triple, shift in order to cater to the huge number of pupils – with very early starts for the first shift, late nights for the late shift, and exhausted pupils and teachers.

With the outbreak of civil war in March 2011, the situation rapidly deteriorated for Palestinian refugees for a number of reasons. In terms of allegiance, Palestinians were caught in a tight spot, squeezed between staying loyal to a brutal government which had nevertheless supported them historically, and participating in the Syrian population’s rebellion. In terms of security, they also became one of the most vulnerable groups in Syria. To this date, over half have been displaced. Despite Israel bearing responsibility for both the Nakba of 1948 and the occupation of 1967, Israel has offered no safe haven for the twice refugee Palestinians.

Of course, children have been among the worst to suffer. The civil war has disrupted their childhood and denied them their basic right to education.

In September of 2013, the true situation became starkly clear. When the Autumn semester was due to begin again, UNRWA announced that only one third of all students had registered for school. A combination of damage to school buildings and general security fears had led to the closure of 69 of the 118 UNRWA schools, leaving the majority of children without education for the foreseeable future.

Yarmouk camp today

Perhaps the most fraught situation currently is in Yarmouk camp, Damascus, once home to the largest population of Palestinian refugees in Syria. Since 2012, it has been witness to intense fighting causing all but 15% of the population to flee.

Palestinians take part in a solidarity with Palestinian children at Yarmouk refugee camp in Syria

Gazans raise awareness of the plight of Yarmouk’s Palestinian children

Currently, the 20,000 people remaining in the camp have been under siege by pro-Assad forces for over six months. According to the government, Yarmouk is a hot bed of rebel activity. Yet many of those left in the camp are children, women and old people. For the desperate children that remain in the camp, there is no prospect of learning. Most of the 28 schools in Yarmouk have been damaged structurally by sustained shelling and gun fire, and those still standing are acting as shelters for the besieged residents.uration of the seige, no humanitarian aid workers have been granted access and one resident reported that the food shortage meant one small meal a day was the best available. Reports of over 40 deaths from starvation are widespread. Vigils and protests have been held across the West Bank and Gaza, with one Palestinian claiming, ‘If just one Israeli lived in Yarmouk, the siege would be over.’

Despite UN calls for Assad’s forces to allow the evacuation of Yarmouk, the siege continues.

Tragically, it may be years until the right to education for Palestinian refugees in Syria is fully restored.

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