Educational challenges faced by refugee children in Turkey

Written by Caren Thomas

Refugees are those who have a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion. Experiencing such fears in early childhood will critically impact a child’s cognitive, social, emotional and physical development.

As articulated in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, children have specific rights. These include principles of protection from harm, provision of basic needs, recognition and participation of children as rights holders. 

Through the Temporary Protection Regulation passed in 2014, Syrian refugees are provided specific protection to specific rights, including education, shelter, food, water, housing, social security mechanisms and the labour market.

Via the 2015 EU-Turkey joint action plan, both sides aim for enhanced educational opportunities across all levels and a commitment to assisting the host nation, Turkey, particularly in aspects like infrastructure and various services.

In 2018, the Global Compact on Refugees set a goal that governments should be in a position to include refugee children and youth in the national education systems within the time period of three months of displacement.

The earthquake in February 2023 inflicted additional distress upon refugees and other displaced children in Turkey, particularly impacting their access to education.

Education is a fundamental entitlement for every refugee and individual seeking asylum. Turkey is facing a significant influx of asylum seekers and is also a host to a substantial refugee population, a majority composed of Syrians. Unfortunately, these refugee children are unable to access education due to their circumstances. The existing educational framework for refugees in Turkey is burdened with numerous difficulties and obstacles.

Photo by Julie Ricard on Unsplash.


Many enrol in Turkish schools after obtaining an international protection identification document bearing the foreigner identification number. The tuition fee waiver announced by the council of ministers only applies to students from Syria. Turkish classes are offered at Public Education Centres free of charge. For this, the international protection identification document is required. However, if insufficient persons are enrolled, said classes may not commence on the requested enrolment date.

Individuals hailing from Syria are eligible to enrol in Temporary Education Centres, whereas refugees and asylum seekers from different nations are exclusively permitted to register at Turkish public schools. Temporary Educational Centres are schools which provide educational services for persons arriving in Turkey for a temporary period. These were initially staffed by Syrian volunteers who UNICEF and other NGOs financially compensated. As per the Ministry of National Education, a considerable proportion of the refugee children were out of school in 2019. However, there has been a substantial decline in the number of children not attending since the initial years of the Syrian refugee crisis. As of  2017, the Turkish authorities have been implementing measures to integrate Syrian refugees into the country’s public education system.

Statelessness within the Syrian population residing in Turkey presents a notable issue. Challenges persist due to factors such as the lack of proper civil documentation, difficulties in acquiring birth certificates in Turkey, and the citizenship regulations of Syria. Notably, Syrian nationality can only be inherited by a child from their mother if the birth occurs within the borders of Syria.

Within Turkey, if the mother’s relationship with a Syrian or Turkish father is unestablished or unclear, then the child faces the risk of statelessness. An absence of Turkish citizenship or permanent residency leads to them being guests within the country and failing to be integrated into Turkish society.

While Turkey is a signatory to the UN Refugee Convention, it has submitted a request for geographical limitation. Consequently, individuals such as Syrians and those arriving from various other nations are ineligible for complete refugee status in Turkey. Alternatively, they are registered under the “temporary protection” regulation.

This Temporary Protection Regulation allows refugees access to essential resources such as healthcare and education. Once the refugees are registered under the Temporary Protection Regulation, they are required to remain within that province.

Additional issues arise from the lack of recognition of temporary and international protection status in 16 provinces across Turkey. The reduction of 25% to 20% foreign population within a given neighbourhood continues to cause significant issues. Finding jobs becomes a difficulty since the individual is forced to look for jobs only in the area the individual is registered in, thereby limiting the job opportunities that may be available to them in other places, such as Istanbul.

A recurring trend observed worldwide is that during times of crisis, the education sector is frequently the first to be halted and the last to be reinstated. It is crucial to be have access to education regardless of whether you are an international protection applicant or status holder or if you plan to resettle in another country or go back to your country. It helps the children develop skills, stability as well as  integrate them socially and academically into the education system.

Language barriers

In a study conducted, it was seen that the main problem was that of language. The employed teachers did not speak Arabic, and the children, in this case, did not speak Turkish. There are no activities carried out within the classroom setting to facilitate their learning. There is no varied material brought in to help aid their understanding. Teachers need to be provided with vocational training to better facilitate the learning process for refugee children through teaching strategies and teaching aids.

The teachers have little to no awareness on these refugee children, not just from an educational point of view but also on a psychological level. A majority of these students have been subjected to post-traumatic stress disorder, primarily due to the conditions they are coming from.

The children’s communication barrier furthers the issue within education. When the refugee children are put with other students who can speak the Turkish language, they are often subject to mockery, lack confidence and isolation due to the language barrier.

Syrian children and youngsters attending informal education and integration courses at Relief International communıty centre.
Photo by: EU/ECHO/Abdurrahman Antakyali , Gaziantep.

Familial background and trauma

In a gender analysis carried out in 2019 to explore the Syrian refugee journey with a focus on the difficulties encountered by refugees in Turkey, it was observed that a notable portion of Syrian refugee children were not attending school. Among those who were in school, there were elevated levels of trauma. This significantly undermined the educational advancement of these children.

Children were initially not sent to schools since parents felt their stay in the country where they sought asylum would be temporary. However, once the families realised the permanency of their residency in Turkey, the enrolment rate in schools by refugee children steadily increased.

Research has consistently shown the positive effects of education on children who experience post-traumatic stress and develop coping and resilience skills. This can prove particularly helpful and effective for refugee children in the long run.

However, despite the positive impact education has, it comes with complications. An unstable or unsupportive home environment hinders a smooth educational process for these children and impacts the quality of education.

Refugee families typically find themselves having lost all they had. This, alongside  the financial strain, forces their children into early marriage, leading them to drop out of school. Worth mentioning, is that in 2020 there was a drop in boys attending school. It was seen that reasons such as sending children to work due to augmented economic hardship were one of the reasons to withdraw boys from schools.

Decline in services

Natural disasters, epidemics and wars spare no children. Turkey was gripped by conflict following Covid-19 and the earthquake in February 2023. Refugee children are often subject to poverty, poor living conditions, minimal access to safe drinking water, healthcare and food, as well as compelled to work owing to the unfavourable economic circumstances faced by the family, leading to the children being forced to neglect their education. The Conditional Cash Transfer for Education for Syrians and Other Refugees and the Promotion of Integration of Syrian Children into Turkish Education were seen as ways to address the economic barriers to enrolment and attendance.

These children have been victims of distressing experiences at a young age, such as the maiming and death of their near and dear ones. Due to the unstable environment, this results in a delay with their access to education. These children may end up receiving education in inadequate educational facilities, thus hindering their ability to fully grasp and unleash their full potential.

Racism and xenophobia

Instances of racist and xenophobic assaults have experienced a substantial rise as well. This has been further exacerbated by various politicians within the country. This continues to subject refugees from Syria and other places in constant danger throughout schools, homes and workplaces. Taking into consideration the duty Turkey has towards its refugees, especially as a signatory to the UN Refugee Convention, the politicians, members of the government, policymakers, and other influential persons should make a conscious effort not to instigate animosity towards refugees within the country.

Teachers and other resource persons need to make a conscious effort to bring awareness among the children of the host state that discrimination, racism, bullying, and other such acts are unacceptable behaviour. The citizens or parents of the students of the host state also need to be made aware to end discriminatory treatment towards these refugee children and teach their children to be respectful towards their fellow peers. Basic language skills among refugee children would allow for both parties to have a basic level of interaction. If not, refugees will persist in grappling with the notable issue of being excluded and marginalized.

The host nation must actively strive to comprehend the challenges that refugees encounter within an educational environment, encompassing issues like bullying, discrimination, language barriers, and similar concerns. These factors impact the necessity of forging connections and fostering a sense of belonging.

Hatay, Turkey, 9 February 2023. Members of the UK’s International Search & Rescue Team continue working in coordination with other search and rescue teams looking for survivors. Photo by UK ISAR Team

February 2023 earthquake

The earthquake that struck the nation in February 2023 has exacerbated the challenges faced by refugees. Basic resources, such as education, are now inaccessible for children. Several schools are being repurposed as shelters for those affected by the earthquake.

UNICEF has managed to help 140,000 children with access to formal or non-formal education and has provided more than 260,000 children with access to mental health and psychosocial support. UNICEF and AFAD have played an active role in helping the Ministry of National Education with temporary education measures such as tents for catch-up classes and exam preparation. However, even UNICEF recognises the need for longer-term support needed for rebuilding and recovering the lives of these children and their families.

It is a common pattern that education, particularly for vulnerable groups, tends to be disregarded and relegated to a lower priority. This situation could potentially push these vulnerable children into engaging in child labor as a means of supporting themselves or their families during these challenging circumstances. The increase in bias and impoverishment persists among these Syrian refugees, and when combined with the restricted educational access, they find themselves compelled to work merely to sustain their livelihoods.


The hosting country should make efforts to guarantee the integration of displaced children, regardless of their specific classification as refugees, internally displaced persons, asylum seekers, or unaccompanied minors, into the local education system in their respective residential areas.

Considering the massive influx of migration that Turkey receives due to global humanitarian crises, it would be wise if Turkey took an active initiative not only in policy-making but in its implementation regarding the education situation for said displaced children.

Partners within the country as well as internationally should step up to help the Turkish authorities by equipping them with the required support in the form of financial aid, technical assistance, expertise in terms of teachers who have the talent to speak the relevant languages, subject knowledge and to be able to cater to the different kinds of difficulties that come with teaching children that are coming from volatile environments.

It’s important to acknowledge that a teacher tasked with educating refugee children, along with those who are internally displaced, asylum seekers, or unaccompanied minors, is instructing a group that faces challenges beyond what is typically encountered in a standard classroom setting.

These children may have disabilities from birth or due to violence in their countries, have seen family members and friends killed or injured, or have even been victims of sexual violence. It’s highly probable that their education might have been disrupted well before their arrival in the host country. As a result, teachers in these contexts need to possess not only strong teaching skills but also a profound understanding of their classroom environment and a sensitivity to the unique situations they are confronted with. This is a difficult challenge.

The host country and other partners assisting the host country must also be mindful of this fact while hiring teachers and other resource persons. Education, especially for refugees, is exceptionally beneficial for social restructuring and socioeconomic development. 

As the viability of the Turkiye Compact is under ongoing evaluation, particularly given the difficulties involved, its execution would notably contribute to supporting Turkey and enhancing the nation’s economy. Additionally, it would assist refugees in achieving greater self-sufficiency and decreasing their reliance on humanitarian aid funding.

Introducing a universally recognized certification system for these children would enhance the ease of educational transitions, if they were to occur. This system would facilitate enrollment, attendance, retention, progression, and completion, fostering a more inclusive, equitable, and high-quality education for both refugee children and youth.

Ignored, bullied, rejected and discriminated against are common words used to describe the experience of refugee children in schools. It is high time this narration and plight are changed. Turkey must uphold its treaty obligations under the 1951 Refugee Convention, International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), Convention against Torture and continue to uphold the principle of nonrefoulement. Ensuring education provides a robust platform for children to be emboldened and enrich their future.  It is an immense responsibility that should be shouldered by the state and non-state actors at the local, national and international levels to maximise all efforts to ensure a safe space for these children.


Indigenous Languages: An extinction of interwoven narratives

Written by Caren Thomas

The world is a mosaic of culture and diversity. However, there is a continuous depletion in the inclusion of indigenous languages within this mosaic. The way in which conversation revolves around indigenous languages shows us that universality continues to remain a mirage.

We need to recognise the beauty and enrichment that comes from these languages. It spreads awareness about the language, cultures and traditions. Indigenous languages inform us about a community that has been wiped from the face of the earth. Indigenous languages contain intricate threads that help weave together identities and histories. The presence of the rich cultural heritage and other vibrant expressions and traditional knowledge in the form of ancestral wisdom from these indigenous languages recognises the need to be preserved and revitalised.

Revival of what is lost helps develop identities of potential persons who belong to these communities and are unaware of the same. Society must realise that recognition and revival of indigenous languages go beyond linguistic diversity. Acknowledging these indigenous languages is a sign of recognising and respecting the presence of these otherwise unknown communities. Furthermore, it is a recognition of the rights and contributions of the people within these indigenous communities.

The UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples clearly indicates, particularly through Article 13, the right to languages as a right for indigenous peoples. Boosting this element among indigenous communities enhances their position in the political, economic, social and cultural spheres. This will be a step closer to ending all forms of discrimination and eliminating much of the oppression and marginalisation they encounter daily. All indigenous peoples are entitled to all human rights recognised under international law. It needs to be reaffirmed that there is no discrimination regarding the promotion and protection of the rights of indigenous peoples. 

Your language is a part of your identity, and eradication of this due to various circumstances, including but not limited to colonialism, forced assimilation, and the influence of other dominant languages, is a devastating blow to the overall growth of the individual and the concerned indigenous communities.

Revival of these indigenous languages is necessary for the upbringing and education of the children within these communities. This will also ensure it is in line with the rights of the child. This will also help achieve a cultural resurgence. However, there is a decline in the transmission of indigenous languages from one generation to the next generation. It may always remain a missing piece in the narrative.

How do we take this leap towards achieving universality regarding indigenous languages? As a society, we must establish worthwhile and sustainable solutions that future generations can carry out to avoid the further extinction of indigenous languages. Even though there are treaties and agreements, States must maintain a positive partnership with these indigenous peoples. Steps must be taken to encourage intergenerational transmission of Indigenous languages. This would help empower younger generations to reconnect with their ancestral background through their linguistic roots. This will ensure that these interwoven narratives will help create a leap towards universality and may flourish for years to come.

Photo by Ken Kahiri on Unsplash

Universal Periodic Review of Jordan

  • This report drafted by Broken Chalk contributes to the fourth cycle of the Universal Periodic Review for Jordan. This report focuses exclusively on human rights issues in the field of education in Jordan.
  • In the previous UPR cycle, Jordan received 226 recommendations, and it supported 149 recommendations. Some of these recommendations focused on the Sustainable Development Goal of “Quality Education”.
  • This report first explores the main issues in the educational field in Jordan, reflecting on the recommendations Jordan received in the 3rd cycle UN UPR review in 2018 and its progress since. Finally, Broken Chalk offers some recommendations to Jordan on further improving human rights in the educational field.
  • As per the letter by the High Commissioner to the Foreigner Minister, issues were raised explicitly for the right to education, which included making education accessible, particularly by ratifying human rights instruments, making education culturally acceptable, preventing marginalisation, making education accessible for those students in remote areas, promote tolerance and respect for religious diversity,  emphasis to be laid on non-discrimination focusing on inclusivity in education, particularly for women and other minority groups and persons with disabilities and ensuring educational rights are guaranteed to refugee children.
  • Jordan has continued its commitment to the right to education through the Jordan Declaration on Inclusion and Diversity in Education.

By Caren Thomas

Download the PDF


Cover image by Yazan Mahmoud Banihani

Universal Periodic Review of Canada


  • This report drafted by Broken Chalk contributes to the fourth cycle of the Universal Periodic Review for Canada. This report focuses exclusively on human rights issues in Canada’s education field.
  • In the previous UPR cycle, Canada received 275 recommendations and accepted 208 recommendations. Of this, 7% of the recommendations were based on the Sustainable Development Goal of “Quality Education”.
  • This report first explores the main issues in the educational field in Canada, reflecting on the recommendations Canada received in the 3rd cycle UN UPR review in 2018 and its progress since. Finally, Broken Chalk offers some suggestions to Canada on further improving its human rights in the educational field.
  • As per the letter by the High Commissioner to the Foreigner Minister, issues were raised explicitly for the right to education, which included making education accessible for the Indigenous students, making education culturally acceptable to them, increasing the level of educational attainment of African Canadian children, prevent marginalisation, reduce dropout rates of African Canadian children, emphasis to be laid on non-discrimination and focusing on inclusivity in education, particularly for minority groups and the person with disabilities.[i]



Cover image by sebastiaan stam on Unsplash


[i] Letter by the High Commissioner to the Foreign Minister, 2018.

Impact of anti-terrorism laws on sick children – A Turkish perspective

Turkey is bound by several regional and international declarations which require the State to ensure and protect human rights and fundamental rights. However, in practice, there is a serious deficit of the same. This can especially be seen through the draconian measures implemented through the counter-terrorism measures, also known as the anti-terrorism laws in Turkey. While in theory, these laws seem to meet human rights standards, a closer look at their implementation shows an undue curtailment of human rights by these Turkish laws.


According to the Turkish constitution, any prisoner who has a child with severe illness has a right to take care of the kids. But the prisoners accused under anti-terrorism law cannot care for their children.[1] This especially poses a problem since it can be seen as a violation of the rights of the children guaranteed under the Constitution of Turkey[2] nor does it ensure that equality is guaranteed[3] as measures taken for the sake of children are not seen as a violation of equality.


Multiple cases have indicated that the rights of children have been violated such as the case of Nurefsan Ketenci a differently abled girl who was pressured to leave her school due to her father being accused under the anti-terrorism laws. The family were living as refugees in Germany due to the lack of support received from the government, especially in the case of the sick girl.[4]






Selman Çalışkan was denied proper and timely treatment abroad due to the travel ban issued to his mother by the Turkish authorities and his father who was a prisoner accused of anti-terrorism.[5]



Similarly the case of Ahmet Burhan Atac where his father too was a prisoner accused under the anti-terrorism law. The arbitrary detention of the father denying him to be with his son at least during the treatment process coupled with the travel ban issued to his mother as well as arbitrary detention, made him receive treatment in the absence of both his parents and there was a delay in the treatment due to the abuse in the judicial systems.[6]





Kübra Kuzan was diagnosed with a brain stem tumour at the age of four. The only wish of the family was for their daughter to overcome this severe illness with their father. The prosecutor did not even allow father Ertuğrul Kuzan to see his painful daughter. After a long time, when a short leave came, it was too late. The innocent girl could not recognize her father.




Mehmet Erdoğan, the 6-year-old son of Rasih Erdoğan, an English teacher with a statutory decree, who has been imprisoned for 2.5 years in Kahramanmaraş, could not be awakened after an operation due to a cyst on his arm and passed away longing for his father in the hospital in Ankara, where he was being treated.





İbrahim Kılcan was a child with muscle disease and a heart transplant. It was her only wish to see her teacher father, İrfan Oğuz Kılcan, who was arrested after he was expelled by statutory decree. After receiving treatment, İbrahim passed away longing for his father, whom he could not see after he was arrested.




Hamza Travac, 27 months old, was a 98% disabled baby. He died in Trabzon due to a lung infection. His father, Hasan Travac, who has been imprisoned in Giresun for 28 months, could not attend the funeral of Hamza, whom he could not be with when he was born.




Hakan Dağdeviren is an 11-year-old boy diagnosed with leukaemia whose parents are imprisoned as part of a crackdown in Turkey targeting followers of the faith-based Gülen movement. Hakan needs his parents to be able to battle his disease.




Berk Görmez, a 14-year-old disabled son of a Turkish couple, who was dismissed by a government decree under the rule of emergency, lost his life. Berk’s father Bekir Görmez has not been permitted to visit him for the last 17 months despite his and his mother’s severe health problems.





Bilal Burak, his 17-year-old congenitally disabled son, whose father was imprisoned, passed away. The arrested father was able to attend the funeral of his son Bilal Burak, who was buried, with his hands cuffed.




The above-mentioned children are some of the many children who had to undergo severe treatment for their illnesses.[7] These children had to do so in the absence of one or both parents since they were prisoners and were not allowed to be with their children during this difficult period. A lot of these children have since passed away without being able to see their parents since the parent(s) were not given any form of release from prison to be with the ailing child.


Currently, Gulten Sayin is a prisoner accused of anti-terrorism and her son, Yusuf Kerim Sayın, is currently suffering from cancer. She is only allowed to visit her son at the hospital for half a day since no steps have been taken by the Ministry of Justice for her release or no arrangement has been made where she can spend sufficient time caring for her child during this painful period.[8] This case is currently garnering huge attention not just from the public but also from renowned leaders from within the country and seeks for the government to make a change in the Constitution for such exceptional cases. Her husband has complained against Turkey with the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child with the assistance of international human rights lawyers David Matas and Sarah Teich. The accused in this case was the primary caregiver and has not been provided with the requested compassionate leave to care for her son.






There should be an increase in the internal capacity of the country to address such issues and take immediate and effective steps, especially in the case of arbitrary detention or a travel ban which adversely affects a third party particularly vulnerable groups such as a sick child of a prisoner accused of anti-terrorism.

Humanitarian protection should be given to the prisoner of anti-terrorism and the prisoner’s family members during this difficult time of being physically present for the child and not finding ways to further burden the child. Humanitarian protection given to the prisoner accused of anti-terrorism should not be seen as a form of support for terrorism. Awareness among society and the decision makers within the country that even prisoners are entitled to “rights” despite the crimes that they are accused of having committed.

Adequate remedies need to be put in place at all international, regional and local levels to ensure that in future when situations such as these do arise there is a proper plan of action to prevent unnecessary legal issues and hindrances and have a swift movement to ensure that the other stakeholders such as the sick child are not impacted by the gaping human rights shortcomings seen in the anti-terrorism measures implemented by a country.

An emphasis needs to be laid on the right to privacy and family life, health-related rights, especially in the case of sick children who become innocent victims in the abuse of the system that takes place when human rights law needs to be ensured in the case of prisoners. We need to have an effective and transparent mechanism which can be laid out by international organizations and can then be incorporated as a law by concerned countries. This could potentially reduce the State’s inclination to loosely invoke national security or project the prisoner accused of anti-terrorism being there for his or her sick child as an issue that goes against the State’s national interest.

Lastly, access to human rights experts to expedite such cases should be an option given to prisoners accused of anti-terrorism.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights clearly states under Article 3 that individuals have a right to life, liberty and security. Under Article 9 no one shall be subject to arbitrary arrest, detention or exile. In Turkey, individuals’ rights are being restricted under the veil of anti-terrorism laws. This escalating repression of rights and political agenda that is taking over has sustained heavy blows on Turkish society.

Written by

Caren Thomas

The above article is submitted to the United Nations for the Call for inputs: Global Study on the Impact of Counter-Terrorism Measures on Civil Society and Civic Space

Here is the submitted report



  1. Ahmet Burhan Atac: The Story of the Child Who Got Killed Collectively* – Broken Chalk
  2. Disabled girl forced to leave special needs school due to father’s links to Gülen movement dies – Stockholm Center for Freedom
  3. Jailed mother reunites with a son suffering from cancer for half a day – Stockholm Center for Freedom
  4. Kübra Kuzan
  5. [Update] Mother of young cancer patient about to lose an eye: My child will die without seeing his father – Stockholm Center for Freedom
  6. Mehmet Erdoğan
  7. İbrahim Kılcan
  8. Hamza Travaç
  9. Boy struggling with leukaemia needs jailed parents’ support, grandfather says – Stockholm Center for Freedom
  10. 14-year-old disabled Berk dies in absence of his father who is in prison over alleged Gülen links – Stockholm Center for Freedom
  11. Bilal Burak Bozbay
  12. Uğurcan Gençtürk

[1] Law No. 5275 – 17.4, 17.6

[2] Article  41, Constitution of Turkey

[3] Article 10, Constitution of Turkey

[4] Disabled girl forced to leave special needs school due to father’s links to Gülen movement dies, Stockholm Center for freedom, July 26th, 2021.

[5] Mother of young cancer patient about to lose an eye: My child will die without seeing his father, Stockholm Center for freedom, July 8th, 2020.

[6] Ahmet Burhan Atac: The Story of the Child Who Got Killed Collectively, Broken Chalk


[8] Jailed mother reunites with son suffering from cancer for half a day, Stockholm Center for freedom, January, 27th 2023.