Over 13 million children are being kept away from school due to conflicts raging across the Middle East, the United Nations said on Thursday, warning that the “hopes of a generation” could be destroyed if they are allowed to grow up without an education.
In a report on the impact of conflict on education in six countries and territories across the region, the United Nations Children’s Fund (Unicef) found that over 8,850 schools had been forced to shut down because of violence.
“The destructive impact of conflict is being felt by children right across the region,” Peter Salama, regional director for Unicef in the Middle East and North Africa, told Agence France-Presse. “It’s not just the physical damage being done to schools, but the despair felt by a generation of schoolchildren who see their hopes and futures shattered.”
The U.N. report warned that the impact of the ongoing Syrian conflict, which has now entered its fifth year, has had a “massive price.” One in four schools in the country has closed since the conflict erupted, which has caused over 2 million children to drop out, and over 52,000 teachers to leave their posts.
“Even those Syrian teachers who have ended up as refugees in other countries have faced obstacles which prevent them from working,” the report said.
“It’s no coincidence in that what we see in terms of our TV pictures, the tragic pictures of people crossing on boats to Greece and Italy, very much comes back to the Syrian conflict and the Iraqi conflict to a lesser extent,” Salama said, according to Reuters.
The report also said that attacks against schools and staff were becoming increasingly prevalent in Yemen. “The killing, abduction and arbitrary arrest of students, teachers and education personnel have become commonplace,” it warned.
In Libya, over half of the country’s internally displaced people said that their children cannot attend classes due to the conflict. In Benghazi alone, just 65 of 239 schools continue to remain open.
The report also touched on the state of education in the Gaza Strip, where the 2014 conflict between Israel and Hamas left at least 281 schools damaged, and eight “completely destroyed.”
In Iraq, where the government and militia groups are locked in battle against the Islamic State group, the education of at least 950,000 children has been severely affected by the ongoing violence.
“With more than 13 million children already driven from classrooms by conflict, it is no exaggeration to say that the education prospects of a generation of children are in the balance,” the report said.