Even sanctuaries of learning are not spared from the war and upheaval sweeping the Middle East and North Africa, where nearly 14 million children are prevented from attending school both within their home countries and as refugees, a devastating new report from UNICEF finds.
Released Thursday, Education Under Fire (pdf) concludes that the school systems in Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Libya, Palestine, Sudan, Jordan, Lebanon, and Turkey are profoundly impacted—either directly or indirectly—by war.
The report comes amid growing outcry at the inhumane treatment of refugees, many of them children, who cross the Mediteranean Sea to Europe in a bid to escape war, violence, and poverty.
Roughly 2.7 million Syrian, 3 million Iraqi, 2 million Libyan, 3.1 million Sudanese, and 2.9 million Yemeni children are currently not receiving their education, bringing the total to 13.7 million, the report concludes.
In many cases this is because direct attacks on schools and related infrastructure make attending classes impossible. Just looking at Syria, Iraq, Yemen, and Libya alone, nearly 9,000 schools are not being used, either because they have sustained too much damaged, are sheltering displaced people, or have been overtaken by combatants.
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"I have seen children trying to write on the ground because they want to learn so much," Jameela, head teacher at a school in Sa'ada in northern Yemen, told researchers.
In Gaza, where young children have already "lived through three major military confrontations in six years," Israel's 50-day military assault last summer caused "massive destruction to infrastructure including schools—and left deep scars in the psyche of children and their caregivers," states the report.
Meanwhile, the school systems of other countries are not absorbing refugees. In Jordan, Lebanon, and Turkey, over 700,000 Syrian refugee children are unable to receive an education.
"The destructive impact of conflict is being felt by children right across the region," said Peter Salama, regional director for UNICEF in the Middle East and North Africa, in a statement accompanying the report. "It’s not just the physical damage being done to schools, but the despair felt by a generation of schoolchildren who see their hopes and futures shattered."