As part of his visit to Lisbon, Portugal, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon today met with a group of Syrian students, commending them for their strength and resilience and stressing that the only sustainable solution to the education crisis in Syria is ending the “horrible” war.
“I am greatly saddened and appalled by all that we see in Syria – the tremendous loss of life, the massive destruction and displacement,” said Mr. Ban, adding that the UN is doing “everything in its power” to end the fighting.
“I want to thank all of you for sharing your stories and experiences. I commend you for your strength and resilience,” Mr. Ban said.
“I know that the global response often focuses on immediate needs – and yet a growing number of Syrian students are unable to pursue their dreams and aspirations of higher education,” he added.
The Secretary-General underscored that of the many Syrian students who are now refugees, only a small percentage continues their education in exile. Recalling that his own school was destroyed when he was a child, the Secretary-General acknowledged that the war is taking a “severe toll” on education throughout Syria.
“Education is vital for the future of individuals, and for the future of a country,” he stressed. “It unleashes innovation and entrepreneurial skills that are important for economic activity and job creation, all critical for stability during times of reconstruction and for longer-term sustainable development.”
Mr. Ban said he was encouraged that the World Humanitarian Summit in Istanbul later this month would provide an opportunity to highlight the importance of education in emergency situations.
In addition, he said that the high-level meeting on addressing large movements of refugees and migrants, to be held on 19 September, would also provide an opportunity to agree on equitable responsibility-sharing by Member States in responding to the refugee crisis created by wars.
This should include discussing the creation of more legal pathways, such as scholarship visas, which will allow young people to escape persecution and wars and continue their education, Mr. Ban said.
“The only sustainable solution to the education crisis in Syria is ending this horrible war. Until then, we must do all we can to provide young people with the educational opportunities that they and their countries need,” the Secretary-General said.
“I have no doubt that the expertise, skills and knowledge you will gain in Portugal will contribute one day to rebuild Syria,” he added.
During the meeting, the Secretary-General thanked the chairman of the Global Platform for Syrian Students, Former President of Portugal Jorge Sampaio, for his leadership and long-time commitment to “build bridges of understanding and inclusion among communities around the world.”
The non-profit organization was founded in 2013 with the support of the Council of Europe, the League of Arab States, the International Organization for Migration and the Institute of International Education.
The Secretary-General gathered with the students following a meeting with Augusto Santos Silva, the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Portugal, in which they discussed the current political situation in Guinea-Bissau, as well as Mozambique and Brazil.
Mr. Ban is also scheduled to meet today with the Portuguese Prime Minister, Antonio Luis Santos da Costa.