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Wednesday, July 28, 2021

World Refugee Day Reminds Us, There’s Still a Long Way to Go

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The number of Syrian refugees may have decreased slightly, not because of the improvement in conditions in Syria, but rather because of the severe restrictions imposed by all countries on their movement and reception. This decline does not mean a decrease in their need for education. On the contrary, children who left their country at school-age are now young people standing on the brink of joining universities.

Besides the Syrians, there are today hundreds of young Lebanese, Yemenis, Palestinians and Iraqis whose countries are suffering from violence and dire political and economic crises. All of them, without exception, deserve support to achieve their right to education to build a better future for themselves and their country. (See a related article, “Foreign Support Helps Lebanese Students Complete Degrees Amid Crises.”)

In addition to the need to increase scholarships offered to refugee students, there must be a change in host countries’ policies to allow graduates to work officially and legally. It makes no sense to spend millions of dollars on scholarships that end up pushing these students to the ranks of the unemployed—or to the sea again in search of a decent life.

A Bittersweet Meeting

In the spring of 2018, I paid my last visit to an informal refugee camp in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley. I wandered into an unofficial school set up from donations to educate children who often drop out to work on farms with their mothers at rock-bottom wages. I asked a 9-year-old child about his favorite school subject. He said “German.” “Do you learn German here?” I asked in amazement. “No,” he replied in absolute confidence, “but I will once I travel to Germany with my family. We are waiting for the decision to reunite us with my father.”

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His answer shocked me, and made me feel both happy and sad. I rejoiced that he hoped to travel and learn despite his young age, yet I felt sad that he thought his education and happiness would be far from here. However, what is “here” to feel happy about? A squatter camp, a non-official school, and hard work with improper pay!

On World Refugee Day, I hope that that little boy has arrived in Germany and did learn German, which he believes to be the most beloved and closest subject to his little heart that deserves joy, just like millions of other similar children.

Rasha Faek is the editor of Al-Fanar Media. You can follow her @RashaFaek.

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