An analysis of the refugee issue in the Middle East is incomplete when education is omitted from the equation. It is especially pertinent in the Levant, where the highest influxes of refugees have resided since the beginning of the Syrian crisis in 2011. Currently, Lebanon is one of the nations to open its boarders to more than 1 million refugees over the past 2 years, a country whose population is now made up of 25% refugees. In recent coverage of this issue, Melissa Flemming, head of communications for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), has illustrated the necessity to invest in refugees entering into host countries. Her presentation highlights the persistence and resilience of the refugee population, with a particular focus on the children. A passion for education and learning lives in the hearts of many refugee children. It is an element crucial for their future development and well-being. However, focusing on whether or not the children have a desire to learn is only one facet of their ability to pursue an education. The environmental limitations faced by child refugees diminish their opportunity to attain a healthy development.
Though host governments should be applauded for opening their borders to those who flee imminent danger and violence, it is imperative to acknowledge the treatment of refugees within countries like Lebanon. As referenced in her presentation, Melissa Flemming draws attention to a young Syrian refugee’s high school diploma to illustrate his dedication to education. This highlights a layer of this conflict to be analyzed through the lens of systemic obstacles drawn by host governments. According to a report published by the Middle East Research and Information Project, integration into Lebanese society through education, for Syrian refugees alone, has been made almost impossible. Students have to provide formal documentation from their previous institutions, the Syrian Ministry of Education, the Syrian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Lebanese Embassy in Syria and finally visit the Lebanese Ministry of Education to seek approval of the residence stamp that may be provided by the Syrian Embassy in Lebanon. This process is not only humiliating, grueling and risky for families fleeing active violence in war, but it is also highly expensive, running at an average of about $500 per student. This often degrades the priority of education for families that must choose between livelihood and proper school enrollment.
Current strategies to confront the issues in refugee education have been effective to some extent. However, with the continuation of the Syrian crisis, there are still many people who are neglected by the host country governments. UN agencies have assumed some responsibility for aiding the influx of refugees, however efforts need to be combined to provide adequate and equal resources across camp and community lines. Furthermore, the Palestinian refugee population, both from Syria (PRS) and those already within the host countries, is deeply integrated into this issue and should not be ignored. Refugees are confronted with extreme discrimination and structural violence within host countries making them unable to integrate into society.
Small Scale Approach
There are projects, though small in scale, impacting individuals in a large way. UNHCR has documented a program promoting the expression of children and teenagers living in the Zaatari refugee camp in Jordan through photography and art. Though it is important to recognize the resource limitations in refugee communities and camps, programs in informal education have helped to rehabilitate the children who have experienced trauma and live through these harsh realities daily. While contextual relevance should be accounted for, effective initiatives to improve the well-being of refugee children can be shared among host communities to promote healthy development.
To find out more about the refugee populations in Lebanon, Jordan and other host countries please visit: http://www.unrwa.org/where-we-work/jordan
Beirut Institute (2013). Ethics and Politics: Response to the Plight of Syrian Refugees. Beirut Institute. Retrieved on October 30 from http://www.beirutinstitute.org/Content/uploads/Impact_of_the_continued_influx_of_Syrian_refugees_on_the_infrastructure_peace_and_security_of_Jordan_and_Lebanon_1.pdf
Flemming, M. (2014) Let’s Help Refugees Thrive, Not Just Survive. TED Talks. Retrieved on November 1 from http://www.ted.com/talks/melissa_fleming_let_s_help_refugees_thrive_not_just_survive
Parkinson, S.E. (2014). Educational Aftershocks for Syrian Refugees in Lebanon. Middle East Research and Information Project. Retrieved on October 17 from http://www.merip.org/educational-aftershocks-syrian-refugees-lebanon
UNHCR (2014). Do You See What I See Campaign. UNHCRYoutube. Retrieved on October 28 from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8tcxQqRIr0k
Wikipedia (2014). Za’atari Refugee Camp. Wikipedia. Retrieved on November 4 from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zaatari_refugee_camp
VOA News (2013). UN Presses Lebanon to Open Syrian Refugee Camps. Voice of America News. Photo retrieved on November 4 from http://www.voanews.com/content/un-presses-lebanon-to-open-syrian-refugee-camps/1684189.html