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Tom Fletcher: Diplomacy in the digital age

The techno-optimist and leader of a review into the future of the Foreign Office shares his views on diplomacy in the digital age with Alan Philps.

You left the diplomatic service last year after serving as ambassador to Lebanon. What keeps you in the region? 

I teach at the NYU Diplomatic Academy in Abu Dhabi but at the moment I have been focusing on getting Syrian children back to school in September. We’re making much more progress than even I’d hoped at the beginning of the year. A lot of people are coming together to recognize that this is a first order challenge. There are one million Syrians out of school at the moment. I think we’re going to get almost every Syrian in Jordan into class next year. We’ll probably reach two-thirds of those in Lebanon and probably half to two-thirds of those in Turkey. Frustratingly, it’s very hard to get education to the displaced communities inside the country. 

Doesn’t the United Nations system provide schools?

In the big camps they take the lead. But actually most of the Syrian kids in Jordan are in mainstream Jordanian schools, as they are in mainstream schools in Lebanon. So a big part of the challenge is rehabilitating those schools and running a double-shift system. You can imagine the strain that puts on teachers, buildings and communities. These host communities have shown extraordinary compassion. It’s striking when you look at the refugee debate closer to home, and then you look at the staggering numbers in Lebanon where there are more refugees in the state school system than there are Lebanese. Can you imagine what that would do in Britain?

Donald Trump has called for a big wall to keep migrants out of the US. Isn’t the idea of coexistence dying? 

History tends to suggest that big walls don’t last for very long and they’re not very successful as a way of dealing with the world. I think taking on those arguments is important – you can do a lot to promote coexistence in the curriculum. So part of the education effort is to teach new models of coexistence in these schools. As a techno-optimist I believe that the internet will break down a lot of these barriers. The millennial kids from across the region that I teach see over walls in a way that previous generations weren’t able to. They can see that the differences aren’t as great as they’ve always been told. 

Click here to read the interview in full. 

Photo credit: Francesco Guidici