Lebanon’s Financial Crisis Takes a Toll on Refugee Students

/ 11 Mar 2020

Lebanon’s Financial Crisis Takes a Toll on Refugee Students

TRIPOLI, Lebanon—Lebanon’s financial crisis is casting a heavy shadow over  Syrian refugee students in the country. Scholarships granted to many of them are either suspended or scheduled to stop at the end of the current academic year.

The students’ economic situation is also getting worse, especially for those who have lost their jobs and become unable to pay to complete their studies. At the same time, hate speech against them persists, as many Lebanese consider the refugees a reason for the deterioration of the country’s economy.

“This year seems disastrous for us and all students,” said Mustapha Jazar, director of the Lebanese Association for Scientific Research (LASeR), a nongovernmental organization that has been granting scholarships to Syrian refugee students since 2013.

Since October, Lebanon has witnessed large-scale popular protests against poor living conditions amid the worsening economic crisis. The country announced this week that for the first time ever it would default on a scheduled debt payment. Hundreds of businesses have closed, and thousands of workers have been laid off, especially in businesses such as restaurants that were willing to ignore legalities to hire young Syrians. Lebanese and other workers who have a hope of leaving the country are lining up at foreign embassies to try to get out. But Syrians have no hope of winning visas.

“As the financial and political crisis in Lebanon intensified, the interest in refugees in general, and in university students in particular, has decreased significantly.”

Rabih Harrouk   Director of external relations at Jinan University

Confidence in the banking sector, which was considered the backbone of the domestic economy, has sharply decreased, as has the value of the Lebanese pound. At the official exchange rate, $100 equals about 150,000 Lebanese pounds; at black-market rates, $100 is worth more than 200,000 pounds. Meanwhile, the banks have sharply restricted cash withdrawals and transfers of money abroad. As a result Lebanese students studying both overseas and domestically are also often unable to pay their fees, although the situation is generally worse for Syrians who usually have no support from extended families.

Scholarships Go Unpaid

The banking issues are causing problems for organizations like LaSeR, Jazar said. External donors find it difficult to send money through Lebanese banks, and the restrictions on withdrawals make matters worse.

Shaima al-Hazwani was pursuing a master’s degree in psychology at the Lebanese University but was forced to drop out for financial reasons.

“I do not have a scholarship,” she said. “I used to work to pay for my living expenses and my studies, but I lost my job and will lose my education because I am unable to cover its expenses. I feel helpless and lost.”

Al-Hazwani adds that she is not the only one, as many young Syrians are currently unemployed and unable to provide for their living and study expenses.

“Working legally is quite difficult here, and obtaining a work permit is very expensive, especially under the current circumstances,” she said. (See a related article, “Little Hope of Jobs for Syrians in Lebanon and Jordan.”)

Eyad, a Syrian-Palestinian student at the Faculty of Journalism and Information at the Lebanese International University, has multiple concerns. His Palestinian origins prevented him from obtaining any scholarship or educational assistance, forcing him to drop out of high school for two years, when he had to work in agriculture and construction jobs. Later, he worked in a restaurant while obtaining a high school diploma so he could enroll in university.

“We, as refugee students, remain the weakest link in Lebanon, because we lost our jobs and learning opportunities.”

Nawar   A Syrian refugee who was studying at Jinan University

“I will lose my studies again,” said Eyad, who declined to give his last name. “I have been dismissed from my work, and there is no prospect of getting a job after graduation. I need to work to support myself and my family.”

Nawar, a Syrian refugee who was studying at Jinan University with a grant from LaSeR, seemed more desperate. His scholarship stopped, he lost his work as a photographer and his legal residency as a student expired. Returning to Syria, however, could put his life in danger, especially since as a man he would be viewed as having avoided military service.

“I live in a great state of loss,” Nawar said. “On the one hand, I cannot return to my country, and on the other hand, I cannot move much within Lebanon now that my residency permit has expired. It needs to be renewed, and I do not have its cost.”

“We, as refugee students, remain the weakest link in Lebanon, because we lost our jobs and learning opportunities,” he added.

Jazar agrees that the plight of Syrian refugees in Lebanon has gone from bad to worse.

“The situation of students was threatened in previous years due to many circumstances,” he said, “but today they are in real danger.”




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