Countdown to the Global Refugee Forum: A Spotlight on Türkiye
Alaa*, 5, Luai*, 3, Nasrin*, 9, & Saba*, 5, in their tent village where they live with their 28- year-old mother, Salma*, in Turkey. Save the Children
In December 2023, leaders from across the globe will gather for the 2nd Global Refugee Forum, it is a landmark opportunity to deliver decisive action for refugee children. Earlier this year, Save the Children published a new report – The Price of Hope - detailing the progress made on refugee education since 2019. This blog series is counting down to the start of the GRF on December 13th with a deeper dive into some of the top refugee hosting countries, for our final week we are taking a closer look at Türkiye.
“Here, they haven’t enrolled in a school yet so they don’t have friends. For example Mahmud had a couple of friends in Ankara. When he played with his classmates he was much happier and more confident.” - Saliha*, 28, about her 10-year-old son Mahumd*. Saliha and her family are benefitting from psychosocial support programs being provided by Save the Children’s partners in Türkiye. Enrolling in school is often the top priority for refugee children and families.
WHAT IS THE SITUATION IN TÜRKIYE?
According to recent UNHCR numbers, Türkiye hosts 3,673,808 refugees, making it the largest refugee-hosting country in the world for the past nine years with the largest populations coming from Iraq, Afghanistan, Iran, and Syria. Many Syrian refugees have fled to Türkiye due to its open-door policy for Syrian nationals, stateless persons and refugees that grants temporary protection status and access to services and assistance for benefits. Decades of conflict, natural disasters, chronic poverty, and food insecurity have driven many Afghan refugees to seek safety in Türkiye; a situation amplified by the recent security crisis as many are increasingly approaching authorities for international protection. Despite Türkiye’s long history as a hosting country, the recent politicisation of refugee issues, although the legal framework remains favourable to accepting refugees, has affected social cohesion and polarised opinions.
Türkiye’s Ministry of National Education (MoNE) committed to including Syrian refugees in the national education system in 2017. In principle refugee and asylum-seeking students are mainstreamed into classes with host communities. This promising approach means the enrolment rate gap between refugees and the host communities is shrinking, with recent estimates indicating 70% of refugees are enrolled in education.
BARRIERS TO EDUCATION FOR REFUGEE CHILDREN
However, there are still barriers that restrict full inclusion of refugees. First, having to study in a completely new language can be a significant challenge for many students. Families will often not prioritise the improvement of Turkish language skills due to uncertainty over their situation, and the hope that they can return to Syria soon. Limited Turkish skills not only impacts academic performance but also the ability to integrate with peers. Second, there are financial costs that families may not be able to afford. For many refugee children, especially at secondary level and with poverty highly concentrated among the refugee population, working and dropping out of education is seen as a necessary solution to alleviate these struggles. Third, children who have missed significant periods of education may struggle to catch up to their peers. And fourth, the Covid-19 pandemic and February 2023 earthquake compounded all of these issues. Regarding the latter, many refugee children who are out of school reside in the affected provinces, citing financial constraints and a lack of official documentation as major contributors to their inability to return to school.
INTERNATIONAL SUPPORT NEEDED TO LIFT REFUGEE FAMILIIES OUT OF POVERTY
Türkiye is an upper-middle income country, with an estimate of 80% of refugee households considered below the national poverty line. Earlier this year, Türkiye experienced two devasting earthquakes in the Southeast of the country. The 11 southeast provinces under the state of emergency have some of the highest poverty rates in the country, hosting some 1.75 million of Türkiye’s refugee population, with an estimated 180,000 refugees leaving earthquake affected areas to the rest of the country.
At the 2019 inaugural Global Refugee Forum, Türkiye made four education-specific pledges including increased access for refugees to formal and vocational education. Despite enrolment to Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) institutions by refugee children increasing by 34% in 2023, problems relating to enrolment and long-term absenteeism prevails. To ensure that this pledge is fulfilled, the Ministry needs both financial aid and technical support to increase the quality of TVET services provided both for refugee and host community children.
Refugee children are being denied access to the life-saving and protective impacts of a quality education in a safe school environment. The international community must mobilise at next week’s GRF to deliver bold action that ensures an education for every last refugee child, with a focus on the large refugee populations in countries like Türkiye.
FIVE THINGS SAVE THE CHILDREN WANTS TO SEE AT THE 2023 GLOBAL REFUGEE FORUM
- Make the promise of the Global Compact on Refugees a reality. The Global Compact provide blueprints to ensure that refugees, as well as host communities, get the support they require to meet their education needs. We must not waste this opportunity.
- Put refugee children at the heart of the Global Refugee Forum. They are experts on the challenges they face, their safe and meaningful participation must be prioritised.
- Prioritise matched pledges to advance responsibility sharing. Educating refugee children is a global public good and must be a shared global responsibility.
- Pledges must be meaningful, accountable and actionable. It is imperative that all pledges include timelines for completion and measurable targets and indicators so that progress can be properly tracked.
- Focus on the money needed to ensure all refugees have access to quality education. Opening education to all refugee children and including them in national education systems can be achieved at an estimated annual cost of US$4.85 billion globally.