Beirut, Lebanon, September 28, 2020 — With 163 schools damaged by the Beirut explosion, at least 1 in 4 children in the city are now at risk of missing out on their education, the International Rescue Committee (IRC) warns.
Over 85,000 pupils were registered at the schools damaged by the blasts and it will take up to a year for the most severely damaged buildings to be repaired.
Although the Ministry of Education is working hard to find spaces for children in new schools, the added disruption this will bring to their lives is cause for serious concern.
- Those from damaged schools will have long distances to travel in order to reach their new place of study, as well as additional transport costs - something that poorer families will be unable to afford
- For children using public transport, safety and harassment will be major concerns - especially for those travelling to attend a school's evening shift
- Children with disabilities - both pre-existing and those caused by the explosion - will face additional barriers as they navigate public transport to get to schools located far from their homes
Over the past week, the IRC has spoken to children and their families in Gemmayzeh, Mar Mikhael, Bourj Hammoud and Karantina - some of the areas worst affected by the blast - about the return to school. As well as reporting feelings of uncertainty due to a lack of clear guidance on how to enrol in alternative schools, they also expressed fears of another explosion and concerns that they would not be safe at school.
With the academic year now set to start again in mid-October, the IRC is warning that these factors will put many children at risk of dropping out of the education system over the coming months. IRC teams are continuing to meet children who remain deeply distressed by the events of August 4 and its aftermath. Following the recent fire at Beirut Port, they witnessed first-hand how quickly children's fears resurfaced and how much support they continue to need. Although school should play an essential role in all children's recovery, the IRC is warning that without urgent and substantive support, many are at risk of being denied access to this vital support system.
Mohammad Nasser, Acting Country Director for the International Rescue Committee in Lebanon, said:
"Instead of being able to enjoy their summer holidays, children in Beirut had their lives torn apart by the explosions on August 4. Many saw their homes destroyed and family members hospitalised. Some lost those closest to them and others have been left with life-changing injuries themselves. Children need stability in their lives and school is usually the one place where they can get it. However, with so many unable to re-open as a result of the explosions, for many children, returning to school will not be an option.
"We have met countless families over the past few weeks who, even before the explosions, had lost their jobs and were finding it hard to make ends meet. Now, even more are struggling to put food on the table and already, we are hearing of more children being sent to work to help boost their families' incomes. Others at particular risk are those who will be placed in the afternoon and evening school shifts - especially girls. We expect that many families with daughters will not allow them to attend school due to fears for their safety on public transport, and overall, we are expecting to see far fewer children enrolled in schools this September and a high drop-out rate as the year progresses. More efforts must be made to prevent this. There is an urgent need for more funding for the education sector, not only to ensure that physical repairs to damaged school buildings are carried out, but also to ensure that all children who need it are provided with emotional support to help them deal with the distress they have been suffering with since the summer."
The IRC is making an urgent call for children to be given clear guidance and support on the school enrolment process and the learning opportunities available to them; for more investment to be made in distance learning and non-formal education opportunities so that all children are able to continue learning while their schools are being repaired, and for additional support to be provided to vulnerable families so that it is possible for their children to stay in school.