Syrian students’ dreams of studying abroad increasingly crash against a growing list of harsh realities: restrictions on travel from their war-torn country, postponed visa interviews and language tests caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, an unstable political situation in neighboring Lebanon and now tougher U.S. sanctions on Syria.
Raneem Alkhalel, a 23-year-old tourism graduate from Homs who has won a scholarship to finish her master’s degree in Hungary, knows these frustrations firsthand. Her visa interview at the Hungarian consulate in Lebanon has been postponed twice due to the coronavirus pandemic, and at times she has despaired that she may never leave Syria.
“The scholarship is in my pocket, yet I cannot reach it,” Alkhalel said over the phone as she broke into tears.
A week later, the Syrian ministry of higher education called on the Hungarian scholarship winners to submit a copy of their passports and other documents for the scheduled visa interview appointment.
A solution might be on the horizon, Alkhalel hopes.
“I don’t know any details about how this will be solved. The important thing is to get the visa and get over with it,” she said.
Coronavirus Closes a Vital Window
After 10 years of grinding civil war in Syria that left more than 90 percent of the population living under the poverty line and more than half unemployed, leaving Syria to study abroad has become an aspiration for tens of thousands of Syrians graduates.
But a daunting array of roadblocks stands in their way. Most foreign embassies and cultural centers in Damascus have been closed since the start of the Syrian war in 2011, so students hoping to study abroad have had to travel to Beirut to take language tests and apply for visas. But now many testing centers and embassies in Beirut are also closed to visitors because of coronavirus precautions.