Archive photograph of Syrian refugees at the Islahiye refugee camp in Hatay, set up by Turkey and run by the Turkish Red Crescent to accommodate Syrian refugees | EPA/JODI HILTON
Archive photograph of Syrian refugees at the Islahiye refugee camp in Hatay, set up by Turkey and run by the Turkish Red Crescent to accommodate Syrian refugees | EPA/JODI HILTON

The city of Adana in Southern Turkey near the border with Syria is indicative of the situation of the currently 3.5 million Syrian refugees living in Turkey, including hundreds of thousands of minors who are often not enrolled in school. But a UNICEF program aims to change that with money from the EU-Turkey deal.

Cuma El Ahmedi, a Syrian refugee who lives in Turkey with his wife Fatima and four children between the ages of nine and 15, says he has found help at a center managed by the Red Crescent in Adana, a city in southern Turkey just two hours away from the Syrian border. "We were well off in Aleppo," El Ahmedi said. "I had a distribution firm, but we have nothing left there. Our life is here now." El Ahmedi says his family has been helped financially by the center and his children can now go to school.

Without the center, he would not have been able to provide his children with an education: "I am unemployed, and I have a heart condition," he sad. According to UNICEF estimates, El Ahmedi's kids are among 645,000 refugee children attending schools in Turkey, about 60 percent of the total of school-aged children in the country. His youngest, Shabaan, at one point dropped out because he was being bullied - his name is similar to a well-known Turkish film character who is not particularly brilliant, El Ahmedi explained.

Indeed, 40 percent of students drop out of school, with nearly 400,000 children and teens who cannot go to class because they need to work, are forced into early marriage or simply cannot afford to buy textbooks.

A project to support minors

Together with the Turkish ministries of welfare and education and the Turkish Red Crescent, UNICEF in 2017 launched the largest program in the country to date to ensure that refugees have access to education. The Conditional Cash Transfer for Education (CCTE) program is financed through July with 85 million euros from the first installment of three billion euros in aid from the EU-Turkey deal, which was reached three years ago on March 18. The project will be extended with new resources already allocated by Brussels.

Through the CCTE program, 487,000 child refugees - 85 percent of whom are Syrian - have received economic support tied to regular participation in educational activities, in order to help the most vulnerable families to send their children to school. And on the third anniversary of the EU-Turkey deal, the over 3.5 million Syrians who have remained in the country are trying to build a future.

Departures to Europe blocked

Leaving Turkey for Europe as well as going back to Syria is now nearly impossible, although Turkish authorities say that 310,000 refugees have traveled back to northern Syrian areas controlled by Turkey. The second installment of the six billion euros pledged by the EU to the Turkish government still needs to be distributed. Projects funded with the first installment worth three billion euros should be completed by the end of this year.

The projects not only fund schools, hospitals and social centers, it also provides monthly financial aid to some 1.5 million Syrians. Additional resources have been allocated to promote education. The primary school Sehit Duran in Adana, for instance, hosts 'informal education' classes in the morning to help refugees learn the Turkish language so they can attend school.

The program kicked off last summer and aims to enroll at least 65,000 minors in Turkish schools. One of them is Hasan, 11, who would like to become a soccer player one day but in the meantime loves going to school. "I hope I can continue to go," he said.

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