Eight years after Syrians began to enter Lebanon in flight from an uprising that turned into civil war, young refugees continue to struggle for integration into the Lebanese education system at every level—primary and secondary schools and higher education. Indeed, by some measures, the educational outlook for Syrians is getting worse.
“This year, the number of scholarships available to Syrian refugees to study in Lebanon is decreasing,” said Ben Webster, founder of Mosaik, a U.K.-based organization that helps Syrian refugees reach higher education in Lebanon and Jordan. Webster ascribes the decrease to a combination of donor fatigue, the funding cycles of the large organizations working in the field and a re-orientation towards vocational training. (See a related article, “Donor Interest Fades in Scholarships for Refugees.”)
Lebanon hosts about one million registered Syrian refugees, according to the United Nations refugee agency, and has the world’s highest per capita refugee population, although it stopped registering Syrians in 2016. In a fragile state built on a precarious social and political equilibrium, Lebanese institutions are straining to meet a variety of needs that are intensifying as the Syrian civil war continues. Hate speech against Syrians has been on the rise in the last year.
About 7,000 Syrian refugees were students in Lebanon’s universities in the 2017-18 academic year. Since there are about 117,000 Syrian refugees in Lebanon between the ages of 18 and 24, this means that only about 6 percent of college-age Syrians are enrolled in Lebanese universities, when about a quarter of college-age Syrians were studying in Syrian universities before the war.
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International organizations providing scholarships and funding for Syrians in higher education in Lebanon see a new trend beginning to emerge. “The intake of students is more modest than in previous years,” says Maren Kroeger, manager of the DAFI (Albert Einstein German Academic Refugee Initiative) program at the United Nations refugee agency, one of the largest providers of higher-education scholarships for Syrian refugees. (See a related article, “First Refugee Scholarship Program Experiences Rapid Growth.”)
A Plugged Pipeline
Fewer young Syrians are eligible for higher education because fewer of them are graduating from Lebanese secondary schools. In Jordan, by contrast, more students qualify for DAFI scholarships because “they graduate from high school with quite good results,” Kroeger says.
“The problem is with secondary education,” says Mustapha Jazar of LASeR, a nongovernmental organization with an educational focus based in Tripoli, Lebanon. “At this rate, we will not have enough eligible candidates to serve with scholarships.”
The Syrian students have come to a country that now wants them to return home. Lebanon never subscribed to the 1951 Geneva Convention on the status of refugees; generations of Palestinian refugees from the 1948 Arab–Israeli war are still living in Lebanon without citizenship. Syrians in Lebanon can work legally only in agriculture and construction. Many don’t have legal residency, and live in fear of official checkpoints. (See a related article, “Syrian Refugees Are Often Steered Into Illegal Jobs.”)
“Syrians are only going back to Syria because the Lebanese security forces are making their life hell in Lebanon,” said Jazar. “If a Syrian is caught at a security checkpoint without a residency permit, he is put into detention for three days and then released.”