In Jordan, less than 30 of the poorest youth complete secondary school for every 100 of the richest youth, the Unesco report shows, noting that gap is underestimated, since students from lower socioeconomic strata are more likely to leave school before age 15 and not take the high school exit test. That ratio is even lower for Morocco, Tunisia and Saudi Arabia.
In Jordan, Human Rights Watch notes 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.
That’s no surprise to aid officials and researchers, who say the current economic situation faced by refugees will increase this disparity because child labor and child marriage are the most common coping mechanisms Syrian refugee families in Jordan use to survive poverty. Both practices keep children out of school.
“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,” said Adrienne Fricke of the Education in Crisis Project, part of the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative, of the impact of the pandemic. “It’s going to make the calculus even more difficult for those families.”
“Ensuring kids get schooling is going to be really difficult,” she added. “It wasn’t as though there was a high penetration rate before the pandemic and now, that access issue is likely to deepen.”
Refugee Inclusion and Recovery Efforts
Covid-19 has spurred both a health and an economic crisis, both of which are likely to increase xenophobia and racism in host countries, while lessening support for refugees and migrants as host countries prioritize their own population’s access to jobs and social services, the Refugees International report notes.
Manar Abbas, 33, a Syrian refugee who is a widow and mother of two children, knows this well. She was working as a salesclerk in a small shop in Beirut. But the shop closed last month without paying her salary.
“I can’t complain (to anyone), I work illegally,” she said. “Life is tough here. We Syrians understand the Lebanese suffering. I am even thinking of going back to Syria, but the border is closed and I do not have a house to go back to.”
The outlook for Syrians in Lebanon is bleak, Abbas says. Many Lebanese assume Syrians are more likely to have the coronavirus because of a presumed a lack of hygiene among the community, especially in crowded refugee camps. “It’s more difficult now to find a job for a Syrian here,” she added. “They are afraid of us.”
Before the pandemic, efforts to facilitate the economic inclusion of refugees were progressing, albeit slowly, says the Refugees International report. The effects of Covid-19 are threatening that progress.
But researchers at Refugees International, Human Rights Watch and other aid organizations say that increasing the economic inclusion of refugees would help the host nation’s economic recovery by capitalizing on the skills, labor, additional economic productivity and tax revenue that refugees can generate, while mitigating their drain on public resources.
And it would also help young people like 17-year-old Rukaya, who dreams of studying math at university, stay in school.
A Syrian refugee in Jordan in the 12th grade, Rukaya told Human Rights Watch last year that her family can’t pay their rent and the U.N. stopped much of its support due to budget constraints.
“I know that at any time, I could be stopped by the circumstances,” she said of attending class. “I want to continue to study but I know it could happen any day.”
Rasha Faek contributed to this report.