DUHOK—Zahra Alqasim says she isn’t a morning person, so her 7 a.m. alarm rudely jolts her from a deep sleep, in a room she shares with her siblings. A minute or two later the shock of waking up has subsided and she begins getting ready for college, optimistic about the day ahead. The bus leaves the Domiz 1 refugee camp at 8 a.m. sharp and Zahra is not one to be late. Her priority is getting good grades, so she attends every lecture, even the early morning ones.
The 30-minute bus ride is a chance to gossip with friends on the daily commute from the camp to college. Domiz 1, in the Kurdistan region of northern Iraq, is the largest Syrian refugee camp in Iraq, which hosts over 1.5 million refugees and internally displaced persons. Zahra’s family left the northeastern corner of Syria, near the intersection of Syria, Turkey, and Iraq, more than seven years ago. Like others who fled the conflict, the family has had to rebuild from scratch.
Zahra was due to start 10th grade when her family arrived in Iraq, but at the time schooling in the camp was only available for younger students. Then she got ill and missed another year, ending up in the same grade as her sister Amira, who is two years younger and less studious.
“She’s always busy with her phone, chatting with friends on WhatsApp and Instagram,” says Zahra, who rarely spends time on social media: “I find it useless.” Zahra’s health and other factors hurt her secondary-school grades, which limited her options when it came to university.