How Much US Aid Pledged to Syrian Kids Didn’t Arrive?

Schoolgirls just outside Damascus, Syria
Schoolgirls just outside Damascus, Syria (Photo: SAMEER AL-DOUMY / AFP / Getty Images)

 

Millions of dollars of aid money bound for Syrian child refugees has vanished, says Human Rights Watch (HRW).

A large chunk of that is likely to be from American taxpayers and others in the West.

The money, pledged in 2016, was bound for schoolchildren living in Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey, but much of it never arrived, came late or remains untraceable because of “poor reporting practices.”

What is not clear from HRW’s 55-page report is whether the donor states paid out the money in full or whether some of the cash simply disappeared en route.

More than half-a-million children had no schooling last year in large part because there was insufficient money available to pay for their education.

“The US Agency for International Development reported that it provided development aid of US$248 million for education in Jordan, but its own aid tracking database only accounted for US$82 million, and a Jordanian government database listed only US$13 million received for education from the US in 2016,” the HRW report states.

And that is just one example.

Human Rights Watch suggests much of the money pledged is simply not paid but also points to the lack of cohesive accounting of the entire system, including governments, aid agencies and others.

“Despite global concern about Syrian refugee children, it is still impossible to find answers to basic questions about whether their key educational needs are being met,” said Simon Rau, Mercator, a fellow at HRW. “Donors should fix the transparency deficit that is undercutting their own support for Syrian children, who cannot afford to wait any longer to get back into school.”

Criticisms leveled at the U.S., European donors and the process in general include:

  • Lack of consistent, detailed and timely reporting
  • Lack of information about the projects donors are funding and their timing
  • Inconsistent information about school enrollment, which makes it difficult to assess progress
  • Inconsistent education targets and goals set by donors and host countries

 

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HRW summarized its recommendations to each of the parties:

To Donors

  • Make multi-annual, country-specific funding pledges for education, to enable host countries to realize the education aims endorsed at the London Conference.
  • Act on commitments to increase aid transparency by publishing timely and comprehensive data on funding for education in Syria and neighboring countries in the International Aid Transparency Initiative Standard.

To the London Conference Co-Hosts

  • Provide a breakdown of education funds for Syria and the region by donor and recipient country in future reports on fulfillment of aid pledges and publish the underlying data.

To the European Union’s Directorates-General ECHO and NEAR and the European External Action Service

  • Include detailed information on all aid, including multi-annual commitments, for education in Syria and the region in the public fund-tracking database (EDRIS) maintained by the Directorate-General ECHO or in the EU Aid Explorer.

To the EU’s Directorate-General NEAR

  • Publish data on all funded projects in the International Aid Transparency Initiative Standard and include information on contracted amounts as “commitments.”
  • Publish the same level of detailed information on projects funded by the Madad Fund as it is done for the Facility for Refugees in Turkey.

To the United States State Department and US Agency for International Development

  • Ensure that the Foreign Aid Explorer and ForeignAssistance.gov contain correct and detailed information on all aid for education in Syria and neighboring countries, including on multi-annual commitments.
  • Publish comprehensive data on aid in the International Aid Transparency Initiative Standard; ensure that the data are correctly formatted so that education projects can be identified by querying the International Aid Transparency Initiative Registry.

To the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development

  • Ensure that that project data published in the International Aid Transparency Standard is updated, classifies all projects supporting education in Syria and neighboring countries as “education,” and includes commitment dates.
  • Ensure that the fund-tracking portal “Projektdaten-Visualisierung” displays information on commitments and disbursements, a fine-grained sector classification, and a sector breakdown between project components.

To the United Kingdom’s Department for International Development

  • Ensure that data published in the International Aid Transparency Initiative Standard correctly list education components for all grants.

To the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation

  • Ensure that commitment dates of all education grants to Syria and neighboring countries are included in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ Grants Portal, to show the amount of education funds made available before the beginning of the school year.
  • Publish comprehensive and timely information on aid in the International Aid Transparency Initiative Standard.

To the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan

  • Publish comprehensive, detailed, and timely information on all aid for education in Syria and its neighboring countries in the International Aid Transparency Initiative Standard, including on multi-annual commitments.

To the International Aid Transparency Initiative

  • Ensure that the International Aid Transparency Initiative Standard includes a detailed sector classification in data on humanitarian aid. The classification should be in accordance with the Inter-Agency Standing Committee’s standard sectors.

To Host Country Governments

  • Cooperate with the United Nations to regularly publish comparable, up-to-date attendance data for Syrian school-age children that account for dropouts during the school year. Break the figures down between participation in formal, non-formal, and informal education; and enrollment in pre-primary, primary, lower- and higher-secondary education.
  • Make work permits more accessible to reduce poverty-related barriers to education by abolishing requirements for sponsorship by an employer.
  • In cooperation with donors:
    • Set and meet higher targets to increase access to secondary education and vocational training for refugee and host community children,
    • Set and meet higher targets to increase access to education for refugee and host country children with disabilities,
    • Increase access to quality, non-formal education for children who have been out of school for years or are unable to access formal education.
    • Enforce bans on corporal punishment at school, hold teachers accountable for corporal punishment of students, and ensure that allegations of corporal punishment, harassment, or discrimination are investigated and redressed.

To the Jordanian and Lebanese Governments

  • Allow qualified Syrian teachers to teach in accredited programs.

To the Lebanese and Turkish Governments

  • Publish updated, detailed information on all international aid received in response to the Syria crisis, and indicate the amount received, the date, recipient, and use or project.
  • In cooperation with donors, increase access to programs offering language support and accelerated language learning for Syrian children.

To the Jordanian Ministry of Planning and International Cooperation

  • Include a breakdown by donor of education funding under the Jordan Response Plan in published funding updates.
  • Include budget aid and funding for projects implemented by ministries that are received under the Jordan Response Plan in the Jordan Response Information System for the Syria Crisis project search.

To the Lebanese Government

  • Extend the waiver of residency fees to all refugees in the country, and ensure that it is consistently applied by all General Security offices.
  • In cooperation with donors, implement schemes to create jobs for Lebanese and Syrians as announced at the London conference.

To the Turkish Government

  • Establish transparent targets for international aid necessary to achieve universal school enrollment of Syrian and vulnerable host community children in Turkey.
  • Clear the backlog of identification card (kimlik) applications, and make sure that all refugee children can enroll as guest students while awaiting their documentation.