ANKARA (Reuters) - Out of 640,000 Syrian children in Turkey, 400,000 are not at school, a Turkish official told Reuters on Friday, warning that those who miss out are likely to be exploited by “gangs and criminals”.
Educating the children among more than 2.2 million Syrian refugees in Turkey - most of whom live outside purpose-built camps - is seen as a critical part of the humanitarian response to the four-and-a-half-year-old conflict.
European governments also see it as a critical part of their counter-terrorism strategy.
“If we cannot educate these students, they will fall into the wrong hands, they are going to be exploited by gangs, criminals,” deputy under secretary for education, Yusuf Buyuk, said.
“We are trying to improve the standards in our country which means also improving standards for Syrians,” he said on a visit to a school in a suburb of Ankara which works a double-shift system, teaching Syrian children after 2 p.m.
These schools educate some 110,000 Syrian pupils nationwide.
The government aims to get 270,000 Syrians children into education by the end of this school term in January and 370,000 by the end of the year, Buyuk said. Last school year educating Syrian refugee children cost the government $600 million.
Children at the school in the Karapurcek district of Ankara, where many shop signs are written in Arabic and most Syrians come from Aleppo province, said they were happy to be in Turkey.
Salah Hasanato, who looks younger than his 14 years, says he has many Turkish friends. His best friend is called Baris and they speak in Turkish although Salah and the other children in the school learn from Syrian text books.
But Turkish residents are resentful of the money the government is spending on supporting refugees.
Adnan, 52, who runs a stationery shop with his wife in Karapurcek, said he had no problem with the refugees but was angry at the government.
“The government gives us nothing. Everything is for Syrians... Coal, food and UNICEF, and nothing for us.”
Additional reporting by Can Barut; Editing by Louise Ireland