Compelling news from the refugee and migrant sector
Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Poverty, COVID keeping refugee kids out of school

17 July 20200 comments

A raft of new studies show that exiled refugee families in the Middle East are falling further into poverty and their children are missing out on an education.

Reports by Refugees International, the International Rescue Committee, Human Rights Watch and UNESCO show many refugee families, especially in Jordan and Lebanon are increasingly being forced to make the difficult choice for their children due to Covid-19: schooling or survival.

The reports say displaced Syrians, Iraqis and others are being exclude from the labour markets in their host countries as well as from social safety nets and international aid because of the economic, political and logistical impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic

One of the reports, titled “Locked Down and Left behind: The Impact of COVID-19 on Refugees’ Economic Inclusion” and produced by Refugees International and the International Rescue Committee, shows how his economic exclusion is often the result of legal and practical barriers for refugees that existed before the pandemic, and which is now exacerbating their situation in the face of spiralling inflation and falling employment in host countries.

The report says that economic contraction is hitting top host countries such as Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey especially hard – as well as those who have found refuge there.

As a result, schooling is increasingly becoming a luxury many cannot afford.

“Parents are prioritizing basic needs and struggling to meet them because their opportunities to earn have shrunk,” the report said.

“We’ve seen parents send their children to work instead of school because they’re not earning enough and they need their support to be able to pay the bills, to cover basic needs,” the report’s authors said.

“So as parents struggle to keep their jobs, access assistance and just be able to survive the crisis, we expect that some of these negative coping mechanisms like child labour will increase. And these will have effects as well on (children’s) ability to access education.”

Lebanon and 15 other non-Gulf countries in the 22-member Arab League are “low and middle income” countries, which host more than 9 million refugees, the report says.

Meanwhile, Lebanon and Jordan rank in the top ten of “major hosting countries,” along with Turkey—home to almost 4 million refugees.

Many host countries were already struggling to accommodate their refugee populations before the pandemic. Lebanon, with an estimated 1.4 million refugees, has been in economic freefall since last year, and recently saw its currency collapse.

The report says that its economy is expected to contract by 12 percent in 2020. Jordan, which hosts almost 3 million refugees, is predicted to see its economy contract by almost 4 percent.

It says that in these countries, most refugees work in sectors the report deems as “highly impacted” by the pandemic.

In Turkey, 74 percent of refugees work in these sectors, which include manufacturing (with the majority in textiles), retail and services, according to the report. In Lebanon and Jordan, more than half do.

Often, this is because of restrictive laws that push refugees to work in specific industries, according to another recent report, by Human Rights Watch (HRW).

Titled ‘I want to Continue to Study: Barriers to Secondary Education for Syrian Refugee Children in Jordan’, the report says Jordan was one of the first countries to implement reforms to expand work opportunities for refugees.

It designated 37 employment sectors as completely off-limits for foreign nationals and set quotas for the so-called open fields. As a result, refugees mainly work in manufacturing, agriculture, and hospitality. Also, the government only issued about 50,000 active work permits as of 2018, tens of thousands less than it said it would issue and one-sixth of what’s needed, the HRW report said.

Now, those jobs are disappearing. In Jordan, 35 percent of Syrian refugees who were employed before COVID-19 have lost their jobs, compared to 17 percent of Jordanian citizens, according to the Refugees International report.

In Lebanon, 60 percent of Syrians have been permanently laid off due to COVID-19, relative to 39 percent of Lebanese citizens.

At the same time, help from host governments is often out of reach because of identity requirements or regulations that prevent refugees from accessing bank accounts or mobile phone service, often a prerequisite for aid.

Also, the pandemic is making it difficult for international donors and non-governmental organisations to deliver humanitarian assistance, given border closures, disrupted supply chains and social distancing guidelines.

In Jordan, before the coronavirus pandemic, 80 percent of Syrian refugees were living in poverty, HRW says.

And 15 percent of Syrian 16-year-olds and 21 percent of 17-year-olds were enrolled in secondary school, as compared to more than 80 percent of Jordanian children of both ages, it says.

And while most Syrian families in Jordan have depended on financial support from humanitarian agencies for survival, the amounts they receive have been cut or substantially reduced in recent years.

Meanwhile, a UNESCO report says that poverty is one of the main factors in the exclusion of children from education worldwide and in the Arab region.

The ‘Global Education Monitoring Report’ for 2020 says poverty is one of the main factors in the exclusion of children from education worldwide and in the Arab region.

Using a measure called the wealth parity index – the ratio of the scores of the most disadvantaged students relative to the least disadvantaged – the report shows that families in the bottom socioeconomic quarter fared significantly worse in learning achievement than those in the top quarter in all countries worldwide, even before the pandemic hit.

In the Arab world, like most regions excluding Europe and North America, adolescents from the richest households were three times as likely to complete lower secondary school as those from the poorest households, the UNESCO report said.

Among those who completed lower secondary school, students from the richest households are twice as likely to have basic skills as those from the poorest households. And on average, only 18 of the poorest youth complete secondary school for every 100 of the richest youth.

“It’s pretty clear that it’s not going to be easy for families who were already having to make hard choices about which children go to school, and which children work, or for how long their children go to school,” the report’s authors said.

Read the full reports here…