In 2016, Abdulrahman Alhaddad escaped from ISIS-controlled Raqqa, in Syria, and ended up in a refugee camp in Lebanon. A year later, he managed to win a scholarship to a university in Beirut. But the trauma he had been through left its marks. Angry, depressed, and unable to concentrate on his studies, he watched helplessly as his life was falling apart.
Then his scholarship provider stepped in with additional support. He was sent to see a psychiatrist, was prescribed anti-depression medication and began weekly psychotherapy sessions. Later he joined a support group with other Syrian refugee students who had gone through similar experiences. His psychological state improved, his grades shot up and his social life went from barren and angry to rich and satisfying.
Tens of thousands of young Syrians who fled their country as refugees are enrolled in universities in neighboring countries and outside the region. The international groups that stepped in to provide them with university scholarships did so in part to ensure the presence of educated young people to help rebuild their country when the conflict finally ends.
Yet even today, many refugee students struggle on their own with psychological scars from the ordeals they have endured. Having lost their support networks, often uncertain about their futures and the safety of the families they left behind, and sometimes having lived through violence and trauma, many Syrians suffer some degree of depression, anxiety, and trouble concentrating on their studies.
But the experiences of Alhaddad and others like him are beginning to convince groups supporting refugee students that in addition to university scholarships, they need psychosocial support to be successful.