Lebanon is helping to keep Syria's kids in school - for free!
Because education gives kids hope.
Europe's determination to come up with a unified plan to accommodate 120,000 refugees is an admirable one. Europe is home to some of the world's wealthiest economies, and there's no doubt that the region has the resources to make a substantial contribution to addressing the refugee crisis.
But lots of pressure has also been put on less prosperous countries. I'm not talking about places like Hungary or Poland, but places with even less cash. Most of the countries neighbouring Syria don't rank highly on the world's economic tables, but with millions of people who have entered neighbouring countries from Syria, they don't get a choice about whether they're involved in responding to the refugee crisis. This might feel like a pretty raw deal for a country like Lebanon, a place that is facing challenges of its own in terms of providing for its people.
Get this. Lebanon, a country of around 4.5 million people, currently has over 1.1 million Syrian refugees. If you applied that ratio to the UK, it'd be the equivalent of the country having a quantity of Syrian refugees as large as the populations of London, Birmingham, Manchester and Liverpool put together. If you applied the same ratio to the USA, it'd be a Syrian refugee population in the US that's almost 20 times bigger than Los Angeles! I think that we can agree that Lebanon has more than its fair share of Syrian refugees, yeah?
So what's Lebanon doing?
No doubt, not everyone in Lebanon would be happy with this situation. It'd be a big disruption to normal life there, and it'd be stretching resources massively. But the Lebanese Government is stepping up.
Education Minister Elias Bou Saab has declared that his government would absorb more Syrian refugee children in the country's schools this year, aiming to double those enrolled from last year to reach 200,000. And it's not charging the Syrian families for this service, it's doing it because it thinks it's what needs to be done. The Lebanese Government is appealing to the global community for financial support to help it to undertake this massive task, also pointing out that another 200,000 Syrian refugee kids remain out of school in the country.
Talking about the importance of education in giving refugee communities hope, Bou Saab pointed out that "when they lose hope that there is no job opportunity or chances to go to school or chances that give them hope in life, they start to look for legitimate and illegitimate ways to go from one place to another". An example of this would be fleeing to Europe in the hope of a normal life.
What this means for Europe
These are the sorts of stories that aren't getting told enough. The countries in Syria's region are doing the lion's share of responding to the refugee crisis, and it's in everyone's interest that the international community supports them. Doing so will save lives, reduce the pressure on Europe, and give the Syrian people a chance to keep some sort of continuity. The UK Government has been an important source of resources for refugee camps close to Syria, but this needs to continue and be echoed by other wealthy nations.
And finally, I'm relieved that Lebanon is showing such leadership and compassion. Amidst a debate that in some parts of the world has descended into fearmongering and petty pointscoring, the Lebanese Government is getting on with the task of giving hope to the Syrian people.