(check against delivery)
Dear Sima Bahous,
Dear Tore Hattrem,
Dear Mrs. Rühland,
Dear Mr. Goodman,
Dear Nina Lemmens,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Almost two years ago, the German mission hosted the first event on access to higher education for refugees. Today, the German Academic Exchange Service and the Institute of International Education are convening a panel of experts to discuss what has happened since then.
The answer is complicated. A lot has happened, but also very little. What do I mean by that?
Awfully little has happened with regard to the political situation in Syria. The conflict remains the primary root cause for mass displacements in the region. The fighting has worn on day after day for more than 7 years now.
In a moving statement posted to Twitter, UN Chief Relief Coordinator Mark Lowcock addressed the situation of the civilian population in East Ghouta and other parts of Syria. I quote:
“More bombing, more fighting, more death, more destruction, more maiming of women and children, more hunger, more misery – that is what happens with zero humanitarian access in Syria since the UN Security Council passed its latest resolutions.”
Indeed, the flicker of hope for the civilian population on the ground after the adoption of Resolution 2401, aiming to establish a 30-day humanitarian ceasefire, proved short-lived.
Russia, which watered down the text of the resolution as much as possible during negotiations, avoided a veto and still achieved its goal: keeping the Assad regime in power at all costs.
As long as the conflict in Syria remains unsolved, more than 6.5 million displaced Syrians will not be able to return home. Without any short or medium-term prospect for them to go back, we must look beyond their immediate needs and focus on education.
This brings me to my second point: A lot has happened in response to the influx of refugees from the Middle East.
Since the London conference in February 2016, great emphasis has been placed on schooling opportunities for refugee children in Syria and host communities alike.
Participants at the conference – including Chancellor Angela Merkel and the Norwegian Prime Minister – agreed that we must prevent a generation of lost children from emerging. I would like to add that we must also prevent a lost generation of scholars, researchers and college graduates from Syria and other countries.
Unfortunately, immigration and the influx of refugees to Europe are too often perceived as only a challenge. And without a doubt, the daunting task of integrating hundreds of thousands of people is still ahead of us.
However, how can we ever succeed in integrating the majority of asylum-seekers if we cannot manage to provide the best and brightest amongst them with a chance to become respected members of our communities?
And how will conflict-ridden countries rebuild without well-educated nationals who have returned home to put the skills they acquired abroad to use?
College graduates and scholars can lead the way to integration and eventually to rebuilding Syria. We should provide them with a fair chance to continue their academic endeavors, while giving us a chance to benefit from their bright minds and brainpower.
If we fail to successfully integrate the young and educated, we will face an even bigger challenge in trying to integrate the less advantaged ones.
Since 2012, the German government has provided more than 4.1 billion euro to aid organizations such as the UNHCR and the World Food Programme to help Syrian war refugees in the Middle East.
In addition, our government is currently funding several multi-annual programs to grant Syrian refugees in Germany and the region access to higher education. The Federal Ministry of Education and Research has set aside more than 100 million euro for the period from 2015 to 2020 to facilitate access to higher education for refugees.
I am certain that the Secretary-General of the German Academic Exchange Service, Mrs. Dr. Rüland, will discuss these programs at greater length in her statement.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
The situation of Syrian refugees will be the prime focus of today’s event and rightfully so. But let’s not forget that the global refugee population is the largest it has been since World War II.
The number of unresolved, high-intensity conflicts is also at a record high. The situations in Yemen, Myanmar, South Sudan, DR Congo –to name just a few – give us cause for serious concern.
Today’s panel discussion is also a signal that the plight of refugees from these and other places does matter to us and will not be forgotten.