Entries marked "Refugee"

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Transitional learning spaces provide safe, resilient learning environments for children living in emergencies

By Carlos Vasquez
Architect, Child Friendly School Designer, UNICEF

NEW YORK, USA, 7 February 2014 – As we publish the 2013 edition of the Compendium of Transitional Learning Spaces (TLS), over 2 million people have fled Syria since the beginning of the conflict in 2011, making this one of the largest refugee exoduses in recent history, with no foreseeable end. The refugee population in the region could reach over 4 million by the end of 2014. Children must endure far-reaching hardships and danger to escape and seek refuge across neighboring countries. This disrupts their schooling and moreover, the most vulnerable children are often disproportionally affected.

© UNICEF/NYHQ2013-1330/Noorani
Eager to respond to their teacher, children raise their hands during an Arabic lesson at a UNICEF-supported kindergarten in Homs in the Syrian Arab Republic.

Similar conflicts and natural disasters are affecting local communities and marginalized children in many parts of the world today: escalating violence in the Central African Republic is posing a threat to children, where thousands are being recruited into armed groups instead of going to school; the Arab Spring has disrupted access to education for millions of children; and in areas of the Philippines affected by Typhoon Haiyan, about 90 per cent of school buildings were damaged – more than 3,200 schools in all – leaving over a million pupils and 34,000 teachers with no place for learning.

Less than a month after the Typhoon, I was very happy to hear that the Ministry of Education in the Philippines was using the TLS 2011 to budget, program and plan a back-to-school campaign for the hardest-hit children in Tacloban. The TLS Compendium has helped drive the emergency response and enabled partners to rebound quickly and start designing appropriate and cost-effective learning spaces for children and families impacted by the Typhoon.

There is a critical difference between spending money versus investing in education. In Jordan’s Zaatari camp, which hosts nearly 130,000 Syrian refugees, we convinced donors of the long-term benefits of healthy learning environments in emergencies. A TLS is not a stand-alone structure ‘classroom,’ but a holistic learning environment with a set of facilities, including WASH services, areas for external play, internal learning spaces, teacher and staff space and perimeter fencing. In the Zaatari refugee camp, we designed and built three schools to serve more than 15,000 students in two shifts.

The TLS Compendium is predicated on the principles of Child Friendly Schooling, the minimal components to activate healthy learning environments for children. The profound social benefits of this programming are far-reaching. The second edition of the TLS compendium follows the same initiative of the 2011 edition: collect and centralize technical information, develop basic architectural drawings and provide cost-effective recommendations to improve the quality of these spaces in the context of emergencies.

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Hassan’s story: “We all have dreams”

By Lynn Hamasni

Although far from the fear and danger of the conflict back home, a Syrian boy faces many struggles living as a refugee in Lebanon.

TAL AL ABIAD, Baalbek, Lebanon, 5 February 2014 – Hassan is 13 years old. He has never been to school.

© UNICEF Lebanon/2014/Noorani
Hassan , 13, lives in an informal tent settlement in Lebanon, where recent rains, concerns about shelter and feeling that he must work to help support his family are all taking a stressful toll.

Hassan is lost between two countries. His father is Syrian and his mother Lebanese, but he does not exist, officially, in either country.

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After floods in Gaza, critical supplies help children recover and return to school

By Sajy Elmughanni

© UNICEF State of Palestine/2014/El Baba
With the help of Palestinian civil defence members, families evacuate after their homes were flooded during the recent winter storm in Gaza.

Following severe flooding in Gaza, UNICEF is supporting relief efforts for thousands of families who were driven from their homes and lost their possessions.

GAZA, State of Palestine, 30 January 2014 – In December, powerful thunderstorms and four days of torrential rain hit Gaza. Hundreds of families were stranded in their homes, inundated by rising waters, while others were forced to abandon their houses and seek safety on higher ground.

The flooding was so severe that many houses could no longer be accessed on foot, and some 10,000 people had to be evacuated to temporary shelters and relatives’ homes across Gaza.

For 9-year-old Anas Al-Jadba, what started as a regular family dinner turned into a frightening experience as he and his family had to be rescued from their flooded home late in the night.

“We have lost all our belongings,” Anas says. “I saw my clothes and books floating away in floodwater.”

It has been a month since the storm ended, but its effects still linger. Anas lives with his family of eight in a single bedroom at his grandparents’ home.

He recently visited the family’s flood-damaged house, which is still uninhabitable.

“It was awful and smelled like sewage,” he says. “There was no running water and no electricity.”

To help with relief efforts, UNICEF support, made possible by funding from the Bank of Palestine, has reached out to affected children and their families with essential hygiene supplies and children’s clothing to protect their health and to keep them warm.

© UNICEF State of Palestine/2014/El Baba
'We have lost all our belongings,' says Anas Al-Jadba, 9. 'I saw my clothes and books floating away in floodwater.'

Today, Anas is back at school, one of the many students who lost everything to the floods. In cooperation with the Ministry of Education and Higher education, and with funds from the Government of Japan, UNICEF has distributed school bags with stationery supplies such as pens and notebooks to 3,000 children across the coastal enclave.

“This distribution comes to restore the sense of normalcy in the lives of children who were directly affected by the storm,” says Pernille Ironside, Chief of the UNICEF Field Office in Gaza. “Children should feel that education must continue no matter what the circumstances are. This is especially important, as life was already dire before the flood.”

Densely populated Gaza is currently affected by one of the most serious energy crises in recent years. Access to safe drinking water also remains a concern in the coastal enclave, where half the population is under 18.

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Bringing learning to Syrian refugee children in Lebanon

By Miriam Azar

“A child in school is a child protected.” – UNICEF Representative in Lebanon Annamaria Laurini

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Secretary-General supports Children of Syria as No Lost Generation initiative launched

NEW YORK, 8 January 2014 – The Secretary-General of the United Nations, Ban Ki-moon today added his support to a campaign led by UNICEF, UNHCR, Save the Children and UNICEF that calls for Champions for the Children of Syria as part of the new No Lost Generation strategy.

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In Lebanon, a Syrian-Palestinian refugee girl looks for her path

By Miriam Azar

A Palestinian girl who fled the Syrian conflict with her family tries to adjust to life in a refugee camp in Beirut, but the challenges are many.

BEIRUT, Lebanon, 7 January 2014 – Aya carefully sweeps the floor of the dimly lit room where she, her four siblings and her parents have lived since they arrived in Lebanon from the Syrian Arab Republic.

“I feel pain,” says Aya softly. “My parents are tired and have nothing.”

© UNICEF Video
Aya’s parents say their children have been out of school for two years now. In Lebanon, they can’t afford to send them to school, as the family barely makes enough to pay rent.

Despite her constant worry for her parents, 10-year-olf Aya has managed to keep her spirits. Her natural smile and sparkling eyes brighten up the somber room as if to match the glittery reflections of the sequins on her shirt.

Aya is one of about 51,000 Palestinians who have fled the Syrian Arab Republic into Lebanon, according to figures from November 2013. More than half are sheltering in the 12 already overcrowded and impoverished Palestinian refugee camps, some of which have existed since 1948. Living conditions are extremely difficult: houses are damp and unventilated, streets are narrow, and the sewage systems flood regularly in winter.

Prior to the Syrian conflict, Lebanon, a country of around 4.2 million, hosted some 260,000 registered Palestinian refugees. The influx of Palestinians from Syria has strained the already limited resources, weak infrastructure and overstretched services available in these existing Palestinian camps.

Aya remembers when she used to have her own separate room, which had toys and even a computer. Here in Lebanon, she passes time alone in front of the family’s rented room, bouncing a ball.

Fear remains

“We escaped because we were concerned for our children, mainly the young ones,” Aya’s mother explains. “My youngest daughter started to be afraid of everything – she never used to be like that.”

Even in this urban refugee camp in Beirut, fear prevails.

“I am afraid of many things,” says Aya. “If my dad goes out, I worry about him, or my younger brother.”

Aya and her family feel out of place, although they live among fellow Palestinians.

“There is discrimination against us,” Aya’s father says. “If you are Syrian, you are considered different – even though at core, I am Palestinian, of the same flesh and blood as them.”

Like her father, Aya feels isolated in this unfamiliar, restrictive place.


© UNICEF Video 'I wish I could be in Syria right now,' Aya says.

Back in Syria, she used to enjoy walking around. In Lebanon, Aya struggles to find her way through the labyrinth of the camp, as she dodges drooping electricity wires and puddles of water along the twisting paths.

“I look around and find myself in a different place – I have no idea how I got here,” says Aya.

She lets out a long, heavy sigh: “I don t have any friends here.”

Hope for the future

Aya’s parents are putting their hopes on her for a brighter future – they want her to become a doctor. But she and her siblings have not been to school for two years.

“My son doesn’t even know how to hold a pen,” says Aya’s mother.

Aya misses her teacher in Syria. She misses the flowers, birds, going to their garden, and visiting her friends.

“I wish I could be in Syria right now. Now, now!”

After this interview took place, a UNICEF colleague advised Aya’s parents where to register their children for school. Aya now attends grade 4, and her brother attends grade 1 at UNRWA schools in the Palestinian camp.

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