In Turkey, tiny sums could spell success for Syrian children

Forced to drop out of school to provide for their families, many Syrian refugee children in Turkey are now resuming their education thanks to small payments provided by a government program backed by the European Union and top aid groups, Agence France-Presse reported on Tuesday.

Originally from Aleppo, 16-year-old refugee Fatmeh dreams of becoming a doctor, and now a modest hand-out of less than 10 euros could make all the difference, according to AFP. She had dropped out to help her father look after her three little brothers and bake Syrian pastries to sell for income.

But now she is one of 460,000 refugees in Turkey, mainly Syrian, whose family benefits from monthly supplements aimed at keeping school-age children in class rather than working, according to AFP.

“The money -- 35-50 Turkish lira for boys, and 40-60 lira for girls ($6-$11/5-9 euros) -- is part of the Conditional Cash Transfer for Education programme, funded by international sources like the European Union and managed by the UN children's fund UNICEF, the Red Cross and the Turkish authorities,” said AFP. “If the sums seem meagre, it can be a boon for poor Syrian families who often live on basic aid and informal work, especially those with several school-age children.”

The EU has assigned 86 million euros to the programme thus far, according to Mathias Eick, spokesman for the EU's humanitarian operations. He added that Turkey’s social services also gives similar totals to Turkish families so as to avoid complaints that Syrians get preferential treatment.

According to UNICEF, some 600,000 school-age Syrian children are in school in Turkey while another 400,000 are not. Hundreds, maybe thousands of students who have signed up for classes end up skipping school to work and help their families survive, according to AFP.

At Fatmeh's school in Adana, teachers make a list of absent students and contact their parents to persuade them to let their children return. “The teachers in school were able to persuade my father by explaining how the aid could help,” Fatmeh said.

Reem Zeidane, one of the school's administrators, said last month they managed to bring back 45 of the 150 children who were absent from classes. "This payment makes a big difference for the families, especially those who have four or five children," Zeidane said.