In March of last year, an op-ed by our Chairman, Steven M. Hilton, was published in The Seattle Times drawing attention to the plight of Syrian refugees and arguing that it was an urgent imperative for the international community to do more to alleviate their enormous suffering. Since then, the issue has finally entered the consciousness of the Western world– after the human catastrophe and security threats that he forecast became apparent.
With more than 1.5 million immigrants reaching EU member states in 2015 alone, the effect of the civil war has become tangibly discernable on European soil. However, with the rise of polarizing nationalistic sentiment in certain parts of Europe (as well as in America), the focus on the suffering of the refugees has been sidetracked to address more derivative issues. Discussions of policies on the right to asylum are often hijacked by the urgency of national security imperatives, leaving the main and immediate issue at hand – the plight of the refugees themselves – unaddressed.
Notably absent in much of mass media coverage this past month was the fact that the fifth anniversary of the conflict had passed – an omission that speaks to the tacit acceptance that the millions of Syrians who have been displaced will not be returning home anytime soon. As articulated by our Chairman last year, as well as in a report published by UNICEF marking this milestone, children continue to be disproportionately affected by the political instability in the region and will be at risk of becoming a lost generation if nothing is done from this point forward.
While the tone of our calls to action maintain its urgency, the international community has not increased its efforts to alleviate the suffering of millions of refugees.
For our part, following Steven Hilton’s call to action, we made another firm commitment to the children of Syrian refugees living in Turkey. The Conrad N. Hilton Foundation has partnered with Theirworld, to support the rapid scale-up of access to formal primary education for refugee children. The catalytic funding provided in this grant is aimed at replicating a similar program Theirworld implemented in Lebanon, which expanded access to education through research, advocacy, and campaigning. The program in Lebanon is on track to provide classes to 200,000 refugee schoolchildren during this school year alone. Ultimately, this project aims to generate additional transnational support from donor countries, foundations, and other stakeholders capable of financing the delivery of education for 450,000 Syrian refugee children in Turkey for the 2016-17 school year.
While we are fortunate to be part of some of this forward momentum to bring both attention and resources to the countries adjacent to the conflict in Syria, we also understand that the situation in the region itself remains dire. As the number of refugees hosted by Jordan, Lebanon, and Turkey tops five million, the challenges will loom larger and the need for support from the international community will become greater. Moreover, the increased instability caused by the stresses of the refugee influx could further destabilize what is already a tense region. The international community must redouble its efforts to support the refugees in a manner that addresses their livelihoods more directly within the countries that are bearing the brunt of the massive humanitarian needs resulting from this civil war, as it enters its sixth year.