Over 2,000 Syrian schools have been damaged or destroyed and hundreds more are being used as shelters, the U.N. said Friday, warning it faced a staggering challenge to prepare for the new school year.
“It’s going to be an immense challenge,” Marixie Mercado, a spokeswoman for the U.N. children’s agency UNICEF told reporters in Geneva, ahead of the start of the new term in Syria on Sunday.
Mercado said it was crucial for children to return to school to shift focus from the “nightmare” they are living after 18 months of escalating conflict in Syria that has killed 27,000 people according to activists.
More than 2,000 of Syria’s 22,000 schools have been damaged or destroyed, Mercado said, citing Syrian education ministry figures, while over 800 are sheltering displaced families, “200 more than last week.”
“For children, being back at school is one of the most effective ways of giving them a sense of stability, hope and normality,” said Mercado. “It really is a hugely important way of enabling children who have gone through a nightmare to see that they do have a future.”
She said UNICEF was only operational in the southern town of Deraa, regarded as the cradle of the uprsing against President Bashar al-Assad’s rule, as well as rural Damascus and the northern city of Latakia.
“Obviously the security conditions will dictate which schools open and which will not,” Mercado said.
“We’ve carried out light repairs on 67 schools and another 100 will be rehabilitated in coming days and weeks.”
Families sheltered in schools are being moved to sports halls and other public buildings by the Syrian government and are receiving support from UNICEF in the form of vaccinations and recreation kits.
Faced with insufficient space to teach pupils, schools may have to double-shift or send children elsewhere, said Mercado.
The situation is less clear for children of Syrian refugees in neighboring countries, she added, with classes yet to begin in Jordan’s Zaatari camp and no specific date on when that might happen.
Otherwise, Jordanian authorities have declared that Syrian children not living in refugee camps can attend the country’s schools, which opened last week, the U.N. agency said in a statement.
In Lebanon, the authorities are trying to place an estimated 32,000 children, but capacity “is already a concern,” UNICEF said.