Syrian refugees in Jordan bemoan child programme cuts

By Mohammed Ghazal in Amman

Refugee children play on a swing at Jordan's Zaatari camp on April 9th. [Khalil Mazraawi/AFP]

Refugee children play on a swing at Jordan's Zaatari camp on April 9th. [Khalil Mazraawi/AFP]

Syrian refugee Ahmed Orabi, a father of four, told Al-Mashareq he is concerned about his children's future, as his family no longer receives aid from a UNICEF social protection programme.

Orabi, who has lived in Jordan since 2013, said his three school-age children stopped attending classes after the aid the family had been receiving from the Hajati (My Needs) programme was cut off.

In 2017, the year it was launched, the programme sought to help 53,333 children in first through ninth grade stay in school in all regions of the kingdom by providing them with cash assistance to purchase school supplies.

Eligible families were allocated 20 Jordanian dinars ($28) per month per child, for up to four children, to cover basic expenses such as school transportation, clothing and stationery.

The programme targeted children in 205 schools that operate on the two-shift system in all regions of the kingdom. The majority of the beneficiaries are Syrians (86%) followed by Jordanians (11%), with 3% of other nationalities.

But the number of beneficiaries dropped to 45,000 last year, and was recently reduced to 10,000 as a result of inadequate funding, a UNICEF employee in Jordan told Al-Mashareq.

Funding shortfall

"Unfortunately, the lack of funding has affected the programme, and we appeal to donor countries to continue to support the programme, because enabling children to attend school is crucial for their future," the UNICEF official said.

UNICEF will continue to work with all parties to keep the programme going and try to remedy the situation, the official said, adding that thousands of children stopped attending school after the aid was cut off.

The social protection programme aims to reach children of the most vulnerable communities in the kingdom, according to UNICEF.

It is part of a package of programmes that also guarantee the rights of the child to education and health care, and help to lower illiteracy rates and the number of out-of-school children.

The Hajati programme seeks to increase enrollment and continuing education rates, especially among at-risk children, by helping families to meet the children's basic needs through cash grants.

It is designed to help children access education opportunities, lower their risk of dropping out of school, and help children who are currently out of school to resume their education.

Families face hardship

"I stopped sending my children to school because I do not have enough money to meet their needs in terms of stationery, expenses, books and even food," Orabi said.

"We rely on aid and I am out of work," he added, expressing his hope that the Hajati programme will return to its previous level of funding.

Salwa Hassouna, a Syrian refugee from Daraa who lives in east Amman, told Al-Mashareq that when her family stopped receiving the aid, she, too, stopped sending her three daughters to school.

"The aid we received from the Hajati programme helped us tremendously, and when it stopped my three daughters stayed home," she said.

"I am sad that they cannot go to school, and I am trying to find work in any field to help them get back to school," she said, adding that she hopes the programme will be able to continue as before.

"Unfortunately many families are forced to send their children to work to earn an income due to the difficult circumstances they are facing," she said.

"Many families are also forced to marry their daughters at a young age to ease the pressure and responsibility," she added.

"The future and education of our children is important," Hassouna said.

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He is upset because the assistance which Jordanians now look for has been suspended. Go home to your country and live there!