Syrian children play outside a house in Ismetpasa neighborhood in the Turkish capital Ankara on April 11, 2017. (ADEM ALTAN / AFP)
NEW YORK - Millions of dollars pledged by world leaders last year to fund the education of destitute Syrian children refugees never reached the students nor can be accounted for, a top human rights watchdog group said on Thursday.
The missing funds from several major donors from the United States to the European Union have contributed to about a half million Syrian children being out of school, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said in a report.
World leaders made detailed promises of donations during a February 2016 conference in London that sought to address the humanitarian needs of millions of people displaced by the Syrian civil war.
Since 2011, the conflict has forced more than five million people to flee Syria, many seeking safety in neighboring Lebanon, Turkey and Jordan.
Since 2011, the conflict has forced more than five million people to flee Syria, many seeking safety in neighboring Lebanon, Turkey and Jordan
The pledges exceeded the US$1.4 billion that aid groups and UN agencies said was needed to send out-of-school Syrian children to class.
But HRW said it "found large discrepancies between the funds that the various parties said were given and the reported amounts that reached their intended targets in 2016."
By the end of 2016, authorities in Lebanon were still awaiting more than a quarter of US$350 million pledged to hire teachers, buy books and plan classes for refugee children, it said.
In Jordan, the shortfall for 2016 amounted to about a fifth of the US$250 million promised, it said.
HRW said donor nations may have failed to publicize ways that their pledges became actual donations.
The US State Department reported that the Agency for International Development (USAID), for instance, made payments of nearly a quarter of a million dollars to Jordan, but most of those funds failed to appear in USAID's tracking database, the report said.
Asked for comment, a spokeswoman for USAID said the funds of nearly US$601 million pledged at the London conference were not specifically earmarked for education and have been provided to the intended recipients.
HRW researchers chided the European Union for being opaque about some of the US$776 million it promised to donate to educate Syrian refugee children in Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey.
EU officials in Brussels and in Washington did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
School enrollment of Syrian children did increase in Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey after the London summit, HRW said.
But a lack of timely funding contributed to more than 530,000 children in the three nations remaining out of school, it said.
The organization also faulted donors for delivering the humanitarian funds tagged for education after the beginning of the school year, likely resulting in fewer children attending class.