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.


Educational Challenges in the Republic of Haiti

Written by Alexandra Drugescu-Radulescu

The situation in Haiti conveys the systematic and deep-rooted relationship between colonialism and the development of a state. Haiti is considered the poorest state in the western hemisphere, a fact which has a tremendous impact on access to education. The lack of economic development can be traced back to Haiti’s colonial times. The former French Colony liberated itself from its empire in 1791, being the first state to achieve independence from a modern colonial power. Regardless, the Republic of Haiti was forced after achieving its independence to pay the French state for war compensation, leading to a national debt that was finally paid in 1947[1]. Given the newly established state’s focus on paying its former colonizer, power imbalances remained alive, leading to an inability to further itself economically.  Neocolonial patterns are still prevalent in today’s Haitian society, particularly relevant being the educational system created based on the French model.

Haiti Flag. Photo by abdallahh

Haiti’s history of slavery and revolution can explain the lacking mechanisms in the educational system. An outstanding number of the population lives below the poverty line (60%),[2]  leading to the inability of a plethora of families to support their child’s education. Furthermore, the Haitian state lacks the necessary financial means to create appropriate educational infrastructure, such as employing staff and building institutions. The absence of resources led to mass privatization of the educational sector, with 85% of schools being private[3], funded by public figures, NGOs, and various corporations. Privatization further hinders access to education, given that most families cannot afford tuition fees. In the following article, I will further expand on the challenges children face in the Republic of Haiti, trying to unravel the main causes of said issues.

            According to the Haitian Constitution, education is free and mandatory. The educational system is divided into the following stages[4]:

  • Primary  (6-12 year-olds)
  • Lower Secondary (12-15 year-olds)
  • Secondary (15-18 year-olds)


Haitian children. Photo by Alex Proimos.

8 August 2012, 01:26; Source Flickr; Author Alex Proimos from Sydney, Australia

The dire economic situation in Haiti leads to two main issues: the government does not have enough funding to invest in infrastructure, and a majority of families cannot afford to keep their children in school, especially given that most educational institutions operate in the private sphere.

            According to UNICEF Executive Director Catherine Russell’s declaration last month, half of Haiti’s population needs humanitarian assistance, including three million children[5]. Such assistance is needed in order to decrease the rate of food insecurity in the country, as well as to protect vulnerable categories, including children, in areas controlled by armed groups[6]. Almost a quarter of Haitian children suffer from malnourishment[7], a factor that strongly influences their ability to grow harmoniously and finish their education. Catherine Russell states that the present situation of Haiti represents a mix of political turmoil, effects of natural disasters, and various health care crises, including the most recent cholera outbreak[8]. Due to the ongoing food insecurity in the country, education remains low on the priorities list, with families doing their best to help their youngsters to survive.

            The lack of educational facilities represents another repercussion of the dire economic situation in Haiti. Haiti ranks 177th out of 186 in the world for government spending on education[9], and at the moment, it does not have a plan for increasing the budget for education.  The issue further increased by various natural disasters, such as the 2010 earthquake, that destroyed the infrastructure of a significant number of schools in the past. 

Privatization of education and enrollment rates

Students from “République du Chili”, a school in Haiti. Photo by One Laptop per Child.

Education in Haiti is primarily private, with only 15% of schools being state-funded[10].

This comes as a surprise, given that the right to free education has been inscribed ever since the first Haitian constitution. Regardless of how small they are, the enrolment fees represent an impediment for many families trying to provide their children with the necessary education. On average, each family pays around 130 USD[11] per year to keep a single child in school, a sum that can represent a financial burden given that Haiti’s gross national income per capita was 1610 USD in 2022[12]. The average fertility rate is almost three children per woman[13], a fact that further hinders the capacity of parents to pay enrolment fees to private institutions. Furthermore, the education system relies on donations from various agencies, some of the most relevant being the World Bank, UNICEF, UNESCO, and the Caribbean Development Bank.

            The Haitian government implemented a system of wavering tuition fees for students living in poverty, with funds being given to schools through state subsidies. Unfortunately, despite high hopes of reaching all children in public schools and around 70% of children in private institutions, the program stopped financing 1st and 2nd graders in 2015.[14]

            Unfortunately, attendance rates are relatively low, especially after primary school, a phenomenon that could result from tuition fees. According to UNESCO, the primary school attendance rate is 86%, decreasing significantly to 28% for lower secondary schools and 21% for upper secondary schools[15]. Even more concerning is that the rate of compilation of primary school is only 54%[16]. The above data result in a dangerously low literacy rate, with only 60.7% of the population being able to read and write.[17] This decreases people’s ability to get employed and escape an ongoing cycle of poverty.

            Therefore, access to education is constrained by the financial means of the families of the province. This is an actual impediment to ensuring that every child has the right to free education, a fact proven by the low completion rates in all stages of schooling. This is unfortunate, given that education represents one of the only ways the government can increase citizens’ living standards by ensuring that every child has an increased chance of escaping a vicious cycle of poverty caused by hundreds of years of colonial and neo-colonial ties and practices.

Impact of Natural Disasters (e.g. 2010 Earthquake)

A poor neighbourhood shows the damage after an earthquake measuring 7 plus on the Richter scale rocked Port-au-Prince, Haiti, on 2010. Photo by UN Photo/Logan Abassi United Nations Development Programme

Haiti is geographically located in an area prone to hydro-meteorological and geophysical hazards, which can have a catastrophic impact on infrastructure of all kinds. This is particularly dangerous given the lack of state funds to potentially repair the damage provoked by natural disasters.

The state of schools became even more precarious once a massive earthquake in 2010 took place, with 82% of schools, public and private, in the affected regions being damaged or destroyed[18]. To put things into perspective, the event was considered at the time the most significant national disaster registered in the Western Hemisphere[19], its repercussions are being felt to this day. Haiti received a significant amount of international assistance, with the international community donating almost 10 billion US $ for rebuilding[20], along with a massive influx of NGOs involved in various domains, from education to fair governance.

A similar scenario occurred in August of 2021, when a magnitude of 7.2 earthquake affected roughly 340,000 and destroyed or damaged 1250 schools, according to UNICEF data.[21] What is even more worrisome is that six months after the catastrophe, 4 out of 5 damaged schools were not rebuilt[22]. This led to two scenarios: either children were forced to study in spaces that endangered their health and physical well-being, in buildings not entirely safe for use, or they had to put their studies on hold until the rebuilding of their educational institution. Regardless of the scenario, children were discouraged from continuing their studies, even more so than by the ever-present tuition fees.

As presented above, the educational system is lacking in many areas, leading to a dangerous situation for the development of many children in the Caribbean state. The reality of Haiti is a complex one; the colonial past of the country still has a significant impact on the level of development of the country. There is no fixed solution for today’s issues in Haitian society, but acknowledging the influence of colonialism represents a first step towards creating a more targeted action plan for Haiti. As presented above, the educational system is lacking in many areas, leading to a dangerous situation for the development of many children in the Caribbean state.


  1. 10 Years of School Reconstruction in Haiti: What Did We Achieve? (2022, January 20). Enfoque Educación.
  2. caldesign. (2015). Facts About Haiti – Schools for Haiti. Schools for Haiti.
  3. (2019). Live Haiti population (2019) — Countrymeters.
  4. Dropping out of school: An unwelcomed trend in Haiti. (2020, October 26). IIEP-UNESCO.
  5. Haiti (HTI) – Demographics, Health & Infant Mortality. (n.d.). UNICEF DATA. Retrieved July 24, 2023, from
  6. Haiti – fertility rate 2019. (n.d.). Statista.
  7. Haiti | FINANCING FOR EQUITY | Education Profiles. (n.d.). Retrieved July 24, 2023, from
  8. Haiti Education System. (n.d.).
  9. Haiti: Six months after the earthquake, more than 4 out of 5 schools destroyed or damaged are yet to be rebuilt. (2022, February 14).
  10. Humanitarian Action for Children Haiti TO BE REACHED 2.7 million people 7. (2019).
  11. Kwok, T. C. (2016, March 11). Continued Challenges in Rebuilding Haiti. E-International Relations.
  12. National income per capita Haiti 2019. (n.d.). Statista.
  13. Rosalsky, G. (2021, October 5). “The Greatest Heist In History”: How Haiti Was Forced To Pay Reparations For Freedom. NPR.
  14. UNICEF Executive Director Catherine Russell’s remarks at the ECOSOC Special Session on Haiti – “Saving Lives: Addressing the urgent food security needs of Haiti.” (n.d.). Retrieved July 24, 2023, from