BRUSSLS, 1st October 2015 (WAM) —- More than two million children whose lives have been torn apart by the conflict in Syria will have better access to education in safe environments through an agreement signed Thursday by the European Union (EU) and the United Nations Children’s Fund (Unicef).

The grants worth 62 million euros (US$69 million) will scale up Unicef and the EU’s joint response in providing boys and girls with access to education in protective and empowering environments in Syria, Lebanon and Turkey.

The scale of the education crisis is staggering. Inside and outside Syria, there are 2.7 million children out of school; one in four schools in Syria cannot be used; 52,500 teachers have left their posts; and the loss of school infrastructure is estimated to be worth nearly US$700 million. In neighbouring countries, half of school aged children are out of school especially in Turkey and Lebanon, and schools are over-crowded and under-resourced.

“The needs are enormous. The EU has been at the forefront of the international response to the Syrian crisis, specifically in the education sector in partnership with Unicef and host governments in the region,” said Johannes Hahn, European Union Commissioner for European Neighbourhood Policy and Enlargement Negotiations, in a statement.

Unicef and the EU warned that with 7.6 million Syrian children in need of humanitarian assistance, the country risks losing an entire generation of children. The commitment to investing in education will help lift children out of despair and vulnerability to exploitation. Initiatives like “No Lost Generation” (to which the EU has been one of the major partners), boost learning opportunities – including virtual and self-learning – for millions of extremely vulnerable children.

“This funding will help Syrian children live a more normal life and give them prospects for a better future. However, despite these efforts, far too many children remain out of school in the region. All partners have to join forces to alleviate the obstacles that deprive these pupils to their right to education. The EU remains fully committed to contribute to this effort, notably through its strong partnership with UNICEF,” Hahn said.

Part of this support will be provided from the EU’s newly created Regional Trust Fund in response to the Syrian crisis which is the EU’s first funding instrument with a regional scope.

“Our partnership with the European Union will enable large scale support for the children of Syria. It is absolutely critical that these children are able to continue their education. It is not just their lives that are at stake, but the future of their country and region,” said Geeta Rao Gupta, Unicef Deputy Executive Director.

Inside Syria, the second phase of “Creating a path to Early Recovery for Education in Syria” (12 million euro/ US$13.9 million) has been launched to improve access to pre-school, primary and alternative education for most affected children and adolescents. An additional 8 million-euro contribution to the same programme has just been decided to expand the coverage of the programme and respond to an urgent Unicef request for school year 2015-2016. This will bring the overall EU contribution to this programme to more than 35 million euro.

In Lebanon, 37.9 million euro (US$42.4 million) will provide children and adolescents with access to learning opportunities,health care and child protection, helping 460 000 children, women and caregivers.

In Turkey, 12.5 million euro (US$13.9 million) from the EU Regional Trust Fund will contribute towards increased access to inclusive, quality education, a protective environment and positive youth engagement opportunities for 200,000 Syrian and Turkish children and youth.