Turkey should not be left alone in helping 1.7 mln Syrian child refugees
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“Turkey’s response to the Syria crisis has been absolutely remarkable. Turkish systems are solid and resilient, but it is a question of international solidarity as well to make sure that they are sufficiently supported to make sure that 1.7 million additional Syrian children can benefit from the services as well,” Duamelle has told the Hürriyet Daily News.
Where are the improvements and shortcomings in terms of children’s rights?
We see very significant achievements have been done over the past decades. Whether on health, education, child protection or related issues, there has been tremendous improvement because there have been good policies, efforts and investment which paid off. There are significant improvements in enrollment in primary and secondary education. This increase has also been accompanied with gender parity.
But the national average does mask some geographical disparities, mainly in the southeast, where progress has not been that high.
There is unfinished business and we are working with the government to reach the most vulnerable, those who are still left behind, children with disabilities and children living in provinces.
And the challenge is to maintain this level of social services, to make sure all children that are benefiting from it can continue to benefit, and also to reach out to those who are left behind.
But Turkey has reached such level and expertise that models which have been developed can benefit other countries around the world, and this is one of the aspects of cooperation with Turkey as well.
When you say that others are benefiting from Turkey’s experience, what are you talking about exactly? Is it about the overall strategy and specific projects?
I am talking about the success stories of Turkey, the successful models that Turkey developed. It could be on education, on child protection system, the institutionalization of children for instance. The large majority of children, 90 percent, today are not placed in institutions like orphanages, they are placed with families.
What are the areas in Turkey that need focus?
Protection of children from violence, child labor and early marriage are issues that we are working on with the government. Child marriage remains an issue. I know strategies have been developed by the relevant ministry. Child marriage is not acceptable. I know that a large majority of the population is sensitive toward this issue as well. We also work closely with the Justice Ministry on the issue of children in contact with the law [perpetrators of a crime, or victims or witnesses]. Dozens of special interview rooms have been set up around the country to make sure that children will be heard in an environment that protects them from an experience that can be an additional trauma.
What are the areas of cooperation where you feel it has been easy to work here and those you would say has been more difficult.
Turkey’s response to the Syria crisis has been absolutely remarkable. Turkey has demonstrated an amazing sense of hospitality and generosity. Turkey is the country in the world with the largest number of refugees. And when I speak outside of the country very few people realize this: The way the Turkish people and the government have embraced the refugees and provided support. I think it cannot be overstated. Turkey has taken the lead in responding to the refugee crisis and has invested very significant resources. Opening schools and health facilities to refugees… Only 6 percent are in camps and the others are living among the population. This is unprecedented.
To what do you attribute this approach?
I think it is the Turkish nature. There is a genuine sense of hospitality. That said; this is a huge burden on Turkey. It needs continued support of the international community. Turkey has shown a very impressive leadership on that and the world needs to remain mobilized.
Turkey thought Syrians would be here for only a short time. Wasn’t it a mistake since this has deprived Syrian children from education, leading them to become a lost generation?
I don’t think it was a mistake. At that time the assumptions were that refugees will be here for a short period of time. Those assumptions proved to be wrong, and the plans have changed. In 2016 for instance Turkey decided to make public schools more widely open for refugee children, and UNICEF has been working with the Education Ministry to see progressively children being absorbed into the Turkish national system. Numbers speak for themselves; the number of children who were in school in December 2014 was roughly 110,000. In December 2017 there were 600,000. This is a huge improvement of the situation.
But how about the quality of education. Just because they are in a classroom does it mean they are receiving proper education?
The numbers do not reflect the complexity and the size of the investment being made to have a successful result of this policy. Initially, Syrian children were educated in temporary education centers (TECs) in Arabic in an adapted Syrian program.
In 2016 the policy put in place was to progressively close the TECs and have the Syrians educated in Turkish in the Turkish public school system.
The issue is not simply to take it from one and transfer to the other. You have all kinds of other issues that need to be addressed to prepare for this transition and make it continue in a successful way because there is the risk of children dropping out. Those strategies included preparing the Syrian children by increasing the hours of Turkish learning, holding special classes during school breaks and preparing the teachers.
Does the risk of the lost generation continue?
The risk has not gone and we have no choice. We cannot fail. Turkey has spearheaded in many ways the No Lost Generation initiative. But looking at the other side of the coin, you have more than 350,000 children who do not have access to any form of education, and this is a gap that needs to be filled. These children will be adults tomorrow and the consequences will not only be terrible for Syria but also for the entire region.
There are complaints that there are high levels of child labor and early marriages among Syrians, and some are concerned that these might lead to setbacks for Turkey’s earlier accomplishments.
Child labor has not been eradicated in Turkey and what we see is Syrian children falling in the same path. What will be done to eradicate child labor will benefit all children in Turkey. I am happy to see that 2018 is dedicated in Turkey to combat child labor. Investment in education will benefit all children. Yes, the presence of such a large number of refugees is definitely an additional burden on Turkey’s basic services.
Turkish systems are solid and resilient, but it is a question of international solidarity as well to make sure that they are sufficiently supported to make sure that 1.7 million additional Syrian children can benefit from the services as well.
The issue of Syrian refugees is not a Turkish issue; it is an issue of the international community.
It seems you have also made use of Turkey’s models in addressing some issues like the conditional cash systems [CCS providing cash grants to poor households conditional for children to attend school].
Turkey has strong national systems used for years and put to trial. The CCS has been available for Turkish children since 2003, so we built on the existing system.
WHO IS PHILIPPE DUAMALLE?
Philippe Duamelle, a French national, assumed his responsibilities as UNICEF Representative in Turkey mid-February 2015.
He has more than two decades of experience with the United Nations.
Duamelle has previously served as UNICEF Representative in Egypt, Sri Lanka and Benin, as well as Executive Officer in the Office of the Executive Director at UNICEF Headquarters in New York.
He has also worked with UNICEF in the Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo and the Eastern and Southern Africa Regional Office in Kenya.
Prior to joining UNICEF, Philippe Duamelle served with the United Nations Department of Humanitarian Affairs in Iraq and the United Nations Development Programme in Turkey.
He has graduated from the Ecole Supérieure de Commerce et de Development in Lyon, France and holds a masters in public administration from the Harvard Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University in the United States.