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Aid groups stress Syrians' lack of access to education, medical care

At least 2 million Syrian children have dropped out of school, while 37% of hospitals in the country have been destroyed as a result of the conflict

Dina Ezzat , Monday 16 Sep 2013
Syrian school children
Syrian schoolgirls sit for their lessons in a UNICEF school at the Zaatari refugee camp in the Jordanian city of Mafraq, near the border with Syria (Photo: Reuters)
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As the world waits to see if a proposal to monitor the Syrian government’s chemical weapons could forestall a possible international military strike on the country, humanitarians were stressing the need to focus on the immediate needs of Syrians living through the conflict.

UNICEF raised the alarm about the deteriorating access to education for school children in the country. A statement released last week by the UN body said that “since the last school year, almost two million Syrian children between 6-15 years old have dropped out of school due to displacement and violence.”

With the beginning of the third academic year since the conflict started, UNICEF said it was accelerating its efforts to help Syrian children make the best of exceptionally harsh conditions, especially with “almost 4,000 schools – or around one in five – damaged, destroyed or sheltering internally displaced families.”

UNICEF said that it is working with the Syrian government and civil society groups to help reduce the number of children who are denied the right to basic education as a result of the ongoing conflict, which started in March 2011.

One million school children, the organisation assesses, have managed to benefit from its efforts so far. This year, the hope is to reach even more schoolchildren under a campaign called “Back to Learning.”

“This campaign aims to increase the enrolment of internally displaced children who missed out on education, some for the third year in a row,” commented UNICEF Representative in Syria Youssouf Abdel-Jelil.

Abdel-Jelil added in his statement that “it is vital for children’s wellbeing, as well as for the future of the society, that they are supported in their return to learning.”

This campaign is distributing school bags with stationery supplies to one million children in Syria, covering all 14 governorates. It also provides other educational tools, such as 5,000 teaching-learning kits, 3,000 recreation kits, and 800 early childhood education kits.

However, UNICEF also warned that more funds are needed to help Syrian children return to school.

“Far more financial support and funding are needed to provide more children inside Syria with access to education,” said a statement by UNICEF on Sunday. It added that “of UNICEF’s $110 million appeal for work inside Syria, just $16 million was received out of the $33 million requested for education.”

Education is not the only area of concern for humanitarians focused on Syria.

On Monday an international group of doctors, including some Nobel laureates, made an appeal for easier access for medical personnel to citizens in Syria in need of medical help.

In a letter published in medical journal The Lancet on Friday, the doctors stated that Syrians are “completely cut off from any form of medical assistance and the country’s health infrastructure is at breaking point.”

Signatories of the letter asked those concerned with the nuances of diplomacy not to forget about those Syrian citizens whose basic medical needs have been left unattended at a time when 37 percent of Syria’s hospitals have been destroyed and another 25 percent seriously damaged.

The letter has 55 signatories, including three Nobel Prize winners and several doctors who have worked on the ground in Syria.

They call on the Syrian government and the armed opposition to lift unwarranted restrictions on full humanitarian access within the country.

Fatima Hamroush, former health minister in the Libyan transitional government and a consultant ophthalmologist, comments: “Syria is almost certainly the most dangerous place in the world to be a doctor.”

“There is no acceptable reason why full unimpeded access for all doctors needed in Syria should not be granted immediately to prevent further medical catastrophe," she added.

According to the letter, the shortage of medical institutions in Syria is coupled with an equally disturbing shortage of medical staff, with many doctors among the millions of refugees who have fled the country.

Hany El-Banna, a doctor and a founder of the Humanitarian Forum and Islamic Relief, said that “over 15,000 doctors” have escaped Syria, while there are “over half a million people injured” in the country.

The letter is being issued against the backdrop of increased restrictions put by the Syrian government on the delivery of medical supplies to rebel-controlled areas. The government is also accused of refusing to approve medical deliveries, taking medical supplies out of aid convoys, and requiring case-by-case negotiations for the delivery of surgical kits.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon is expected to brief the UN Security Council Monday afternoon about the findings of a UN team that had inspected allegations that the Al-Assad regime had used chemical weapons against its own people on 21 August.

UN diplomats told Ahram Online that the briefing of the secretary-general should give momentum to a recently concluded US-Russia deal to allow for international monitoring of the chemical weapons capacity of Syria and open the door for the resumption of a political process that could allow for an end to the conflict in Syria.

“All we hope to have now is to start walking the path towards Geneva II; we are not sure what we will get when we go there still,” said one diplomat, who asked to remain anonymous.

Geneva hosted a meeting last year that was aimed at reaching a political compromise on Syria. The deliberations were far from conclusive and a second such meeting has been under discussion.

Western diplomats following the Syrian developments say that there might be a reason to hope now, given that in 2014 Bashar Al-Assad will have fully ended his term in power and might therefore allow a deal that could include power-sharing with the opposition.

However, they also add that it might be hard for the opposition that has been fighting to remove Al-Assad to agree to this.

“It is already difficult to convince all the Syrian groups to agree to a deal that would include the participation of some elements of the Al-Assad regime – but to be honest it has become impossible to think that the entire Al-Assad regime will be fully removed,” said one Damascus-based Western diplomat.

Short of a deal between the “divided opposition” and the “dictator of Damascus,” the humanitarian nightmare will continue, he adds.

“It is worse than a nightmare, really,” he stated.

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© 2010 Ahram Online.