‘Crisis’ in Lebanon for Syrian children out of school

‘Crisis’ in Lebanon for Syrian children out of school

‘Crisis’ in Lebanon for Syrian children out of school

Syrian refugee children take part in activities organised at by the non-profit organistion "Beyond Association" in Saadnayel, Lebanon on July 16, 2016.

Mariam Khatib, a 15-year-old Syrian refugee in Lebanon, says she has just one wish in life - to be able to go back to school.

“People are nothing without education,” says the shy teenager, who has not been in a classroom since her family fled the southern Syrian province of Daraa three and a half years ago.

“I wish God would grant one wish to me and my siblings - that he opens the door for us to go to school,” she told AFP.

Mariam and her siblings are among more than 250,000 Syrian refugee children – around half of the 500,000 school-aged Syrian children registered in Lebanon – who are not in school, according to a report released by Human Rights Watch (HRW) on July 19.

“The high number of refugee children out of school is an immediate crisis,” the New York-based watchdog warned.

“Some have never stepped inside a classroom.” 

The problem is particularly acute among children aged 15-18, just three percent of whom were enrolled in Lebanon’s public schools during the 2015-2016 school year, according to HRW.

And the crisis continues despite the efforts of the Lebanese government and international donors to increase enrolment among the more than one million Syrians who have taken refuge in the country since the war began in March 2011.

In Qab Elias, in Lebanon’s eastern Bekaa Valley, dozens of informal refugee camps are full of children who are getting no education.

“I can’t describe how tough it feels. It’s really hard,” said Mariam’s 18-year-old brother Ismael, who has not been to school since the eighth grade.

“I long to go back to school... I really miss my friends and the teachers.”

Their father Imad al-Din said he simply could not afford to send his children to school.

“I’m so afraid for their future if they don’t get an education.”

Many refugees in Lebanon cite fees as a hurdle to enrolling their children, despite a Lebanese government policy waiving admission fees for primary school children.  

The issue illustrates what HRW calls a key problem: that Lebanese government policies intended to increase refugee school enrolment are being unevenly implemented and in some cases ignored.

Education not only problem

The problems of Syrian refugees in Lebanon are not limited with education, unfortunately. 

Syrian refugee Abu Adnan was rushing his newborn to the doctor one night in the Lebanese town of Rmeish when municipal police stopped him and began questioning him.

He was in violation of a municipal curfew that prevents Syrian refugees from leaving their homes between sunset and sunrise.

“They began questioning me - ‘Where are you going? Why?’” he told AFP, speaking on condition that a pseudonym be used.

Eventually he was allowed to continue, but was followed to and from the doctor’s office, ensuring that he returned straight home.

This is just one example of what Syrian refugees and local activists say is increasing pressure on, and even outright racism against, Syrian refugees in Lebanon.

Lebanon hosts more than one million Syrian refugees - roughly a quarter of its population - and has regularly been praised for opening its borders to those fleeing the brutal conflict in its neighbor.

But the refugee influx has strained resources and tempers, with some Lebanese viewing the years-long presence of Syrians as a burden, even an imposition.

Some municipalities have taken matters into their own hands, imposing curfews on refugees, ordering night raids on their homes, evicting them or even making them clean the streets.

“Lately, things have become very difficult,” said Abu Adnan.

“Once, a group of drunken young men broke into the home of some Syrian refugees and started beating and cursing them,” he said.

“The municipality did nothing for the Syrians; instead it evicted dozens from their homes.”