It is time for nearly half a million Palestine refugee children to return to school. This autumn, 666 UNRWA schools will open their doors in Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. But most of these children will be returning to school in environments of instability, conflict and fear.
As we approach the 2014/2015 school year, Palestine refugee children throughout our five fields of operation, but in particular those from Gaza, Syria and the West Bank, are dealing with the psychosocial impacts of conflicts they have been living through for weeks, months and years. Going back to school will pose a particular challenge for these children.
In Gaza, there has been a dramatic and tragic escalation of hostilities since July 2014. This is the third major conflict in less than six years. Each successive conflict has significantly impacted the psychological and physical well-being of children exposed to cycles of violence. Over 90 UNRWA schools have been transformed into shelters for internally displaced persons, more than half of whom are children. Once the Gaza emergency has ended and the school year is able to resume, 253,000 UNRWA students will need immediate psychosocial support.
The Syria conflict is still directly affecting the education of children living in Syria, as well as the Palestine refugees from Syria who have fled to Lebanon, Jordan and – to some extent – Gaza. Since the start of the Syrian conflict in 2011, the displacement of Palestine refugees within Syria and to neighboring countries is taking a toll on the children and greatly limiting their learning opportunities. Only 70 per cent of the students attending UNRWA schools in Syria before the conflict are now able to attend. Of the 118 UNRWA schools in Syria, only 42 are currently operating. The Ministry of Education has provided access to an additional 43 schools, allowing UNRWA to reach over 44,000 students.
In the West Bank, movement restrictions and the forced displacement of Bedouin and farming communities in Area C are affecting access to education for children in these communities.
UNRWA is committed to ensuring high quality, reliable education for Palestine refugees. Despite the challenges, conflict and distress faced by our students and staff as they head back to school, UNRWA continues to stand by this pledge. We are here to work for the development, dignity and stability of Palestine refugees - beginning with their education.