One fateful day about seven years ago, I was prevented from boarding a flight to Amman from Beirut’s Rafic Hariri Airport due to a sudden decision denying entry of Syrian refugees into Jordan. I tried to convince an airline staff member that I was not a refugee. I told him I hold an official ordinary Syrian passport, and I had been living in the Kingdom for more than two years. I explained that I was even born in Amman. None of that was enough to convince him to allow me to board the plane. I collected my little suitcase and left the airport, wondering where to go and what to do.
That sudden decision changed my life. For several weeks, I lived out of that small suitcase, moving from one friend’s house to another until a Canadian academic hosted me in his house on the campus of the American University of Beirut, where he was working at the time.
I was unable to comprehend that massive change or think of a solution to my strange new situation. My professional future seemed at stake as well. I was not sure whether I could continue my work or return to Syria. Later, with the help of my former editor and academic friends, I was able to obtain approval to re-enter Jordan. Despite the simplicity of this personal experience, it was enough to introduce me to the extent of obstacles people could face for just holding a specific document or nationality.
Inspiring Encounters With Students
By the end of 2014, I was invited to attend an international conference in Brussels discussing ways to provide higher-education opportunities during crises in conjunction with the escalation of the war in Syria, which was described by the United Nations as “the worst man-made disaster since World War II.” (See a related article, “In Brussels, an Emergency Call for Higher Education.”)
There was almost no Arab representation in the conference, in terms of attendance or the discussed programs and initiatives. However, I had the opportunity to meet for the first time some of the Syrian refugee students who were awarded scholarships to continue their studies in Europe.