NEW YORK – U.S. president Barack Obama convened a meeting of world leaders in New York on Tuesday in an effort to secure concrete commitments from countries to do more to help refugees.
The summit had high aims – to increase humanitarian aid by 30 percent, to double the number of resettlement places and to provide employment and education opportunities to 2 million refugees.
As details slowly emerged of pledges from several countries, the United States and other countries co-hosting the Leaders’ Summit on Refugees declared the meeting a success.
The volume of commitments, and the extent to which countries honor their promises, will have major implications for 28 million refugee children around the world, for many of whom education has been cut short. Refugee children are five times more likely not to attend school than other children, according to the United Nations children’s fund.
Far from the summit in New York, here are accounts from Syrian refugee children living in Turkey who dream of going back to school or wonder what sitting in a classroom feels like. Their stories were collected by Jessica Bryant, media manager at the children’s charity Theirworld.
Leith, 11 years old
“My name is Leith. I’m 11 years old. I’m from Aleppo. My father is sick, so I have to work. I have two sisters, so there are three of us. One of my sisters is 13 years old and the other is six. My mother and my older sister work. We came to Turkey two years ago. I stopped going to school a year before coming to Turkey because of the situation in Syria, so I haven’t gone to school for three years. I used to love school and I hope in the future to go to school again. But now it’s too difficult; I must work, that’s why I work here cleaning the cars.”
Mohammed, 11 years old
“My name is Mohammed. I’m 11 years old and I’m from Aleppo. I came to Turkey a year and two months ago and I have not been to school for two years. I stopped going to school because the situation became so bad and it was too dangerous. In Syria, we were scared to go to school because they used to bomb our schools. My father died in Syria from a shell, so I have to work to support my family. I have two sisters and one brother; they are all younger than me, so they stay at home. My mother and I work. I earn 90 Turkish Lira (£23) a week. I start work at eight in the morning and finish work at seven in the evening. I clean cars. I remember everything about school. I used to love mathematics as I found it easy. I wanted to be a maths teacher. Education is the most important thing for your future. I would love to return to school. If anybody could help, pay the salary I earn here, I would go back in a second. God willing I will go back to school after the war.”
Mustafah, 14 years old
“My name is Mustafah and I’m 14 years old. I came from Aleppo to Turkey one year ago. I don’t go to school because I have to work to help support my family. In Syria I used to study, I was in the 2nd grade when I left and I had a nice life and I was happy, that was before the war. Now, life here is difficult, I don’t like talking about my life here. I would like to go back to school. I have no dreams or plans for my future.”
Noura Mahfouz, 34 years old
“I came to Turkey a year ago with my nine children. We now live in Sanliurfa,Turkey. My husband died from a sniper’s shot while he was gathering food for our family in Aleppo. My children were registered in school in Syria, but when I came here they couldn’t go because of our terrible situation. We need money to live, to pay rent, electricity, water, things the children need, for that reason all my children work. I want my children to be educated, so my daughter can grow up to be a doctor. I knew she was very clever from a young age. I want them to grow up and be educated. This is what I want for them. But now everything has been destroyed, and they have not been in school for four years. They need to work, selling tissues and pastries in the streets. They need money to live.”
Rima, 10 years old
Rima is one of Mahfouz’s dughters. She arrived in Turkey one year ago with her mother and eight siblings; she now live in Sanliurfa, Turkey. Her father died from a sniper attack while gathering food for their family in Aleppo. Rima was in school in Syria but had to drop out because of the terrible situation and has not been in school for four years. She said they need money to live, to pay rent, for electricity and water. She works in the streets selling tissues. She wants to get an education and when she grows up would like to be a doctor.
Aasir, 12 years old
“My name is Aasir, and I am 12 years old. I fled to Turkey from Syria three years ago. For me, Syria was heaven on earth. My school was wonderful. We learned everything and my teacher was very nice. I had friends and I used to study at their houses. I loved it very much. But then the war happened and everything was destroyed. When I came to Turkey, I worked 10 hours a day at a factory in Istanbul to help support my family. In the day, I was standing from morning to evening like a statue. Working – if we said a word, you can’t imagine what would happen to us. There were two other children with me, and during the breaks we would play together outside. After five years of being out of school I returned two months ago. Education is everything in life. Returning was amazing. The best thing is that I can be whatever I want to be. In the future, I want to be an engineer. I hope to study now when I am small, so in the future when I’m older I can have whatever I want.”
READ MORE OF OUR COVERAGE FROM THE UNGA:
- Kumi Naido: We Need a Model to Gauge Climate Impact
- The Elders: ‘The Solution to More Refugees Cannot Be More Walls
- ‘Syria Is the World’s Problem’
This story originally appeared on Refugees Deeply.