Syrian Refugee Children’s Mental Health, Educational Needs Unmet

Syrian Refugee Children’s Mental Health, Educational Needs Unmet

Approximately half of the more than four million refugees who have fled Syria since 2011 are under the age of 18, and many face substantial disruptions in and barriers to schooling, a report from the Migration Policy Institute finds.

The report, The Educational and Mental Health Needs of Syrian Refugee Children (32 pages, PDF), found that during the 2014-15 school year, an estimated 51 percent of school-age Syrian refugees were not enrolled in school. Enrollment rates ranged from 68 percent in Jordan to 30 percent in Turkey, where children cannot enroll in school until they demonstrate proficiency in Turkish, to 20 percent in Lebanon, where instruction is in French and English as well as Arabic. In Turkey, Syrian children were more likely to attend school in refugee camps than in an urban setting.

Girls fared far worse than boys, with the lowest secondary school attendance rates in refugee camps in Lebanon, where 91 percent of girls between the ages of 15 and 18 were out of school. At the same time, Syrian refugee children who do enroll are twice as likely to drop out as Lebanese students, due to issues such as language, lack of documentation of previous educational attainment, safety concerns, and mistreatment.

The study also found that Syrian refugee children suffer from high levels of trauma, with 79 percent having experienced a death in the family; 60 percent having seen someone kicked, shot at, or physically hurt; and 30 percent having themselves been kicked, shot at, or physically hurt. As a result, many are at risk for a range of mental health issues. For example, nearly half showed symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, while 44 percent reported symptoms of depression.

The report highlights a number of programs that tailor and combine education and mental health counseling with community- and school-based interventions, and calls on governments, multilateral agencies, and NGOs to offer culturally appropriate treatments, provide trauma awareness training to aid workers, and help refugee children learn the language of their host country.

"Meeting the educational and mental health needs of Syrian refugee children will require a substantial international commitment of resources for countries of first asylum like Jordan, Lebanon, and Turkey," said MPI president Michael Fix, "as well as ongoing support for the small numbers of children who are resettled in the United States, Europe, and elsewhere around the world."