Former British Premier: Refugees Overwhelm Lebanese Schools
Former British Prime Minister Gordon Brown said Tuesday that Syrian refugees have overwhelmed Lebanese public schools, asking the world for more support as estimates suggest that more than 400,000 children from neighboring Syria need schooling here — nearly twice the number of Lebanese children in school.
Brown, now a U.N. special education envoy, spoke during a visit to Lebanon, where he is trying to help the country of 4.5 million people raise money to deal with what he said were "great" pressures on its public services, including education.
Nearly 1.2 million Syrian refugees are registered in Lebanon, though the real number is believed to be much higher. Of that number, nearly 500,000 are children, according to the U.N. children's agency.
"Lebanon has had to bear pressures that no country should ever be asked to have to bear," Brown told reporters in Beirut.
There are nearly 4 million Syrian refugees around the region, with 1.7 million registered in Turkey, a country with nearly 75 million people. But in terms of percentage, Lebanon is enduring the most.
The tiny Mideast country, with simmering sectarian tensions from its own 15-year old civil war that ended in 1990, has so far escaped a major spillover from Syria's conflict, although sporadic violence has erupted several times.
Brown said he will help Lebanon's government raise $100 million before the August start of school year to help with the enrollment of Syrian refugee children.
So far, 106,000 Syrian children have swelled the more than 150 Lebanese public schools, forcing many to introduce double shifts. Luciano Calestini, UNICEF's deputy representative in Lebanon, told The Associated Press that the number was up from 91,000 Syrians in Lebanese schools last year.
Still, Education Minister Elias Bou Saab says more than 400,000 Syrian children need schooling, nearly twice the total number of Lebanese students.
The influx has changed school demographics. Some schools have 90 percent Syrian students, Saab said, adding that Lebanese children are increasingly leaving the public system for private schools.