I was lucky enough to spend three days in Beirut talking to students and non-governmental organisations who are working with students from Syria to improve their chances of accessing higher education as refugees.
Students and staff at King’s have been incredibly proactive in showing solidarity with refugees across the world. They have been providing free dental care and sending sanitary products to Calais, students have created an app that helps refugees find accommodation in Paris. They have been working with refugee and asylum seeking students in the UK to encourage them to become politically engaged too.
Members of the University are keen to create an institutional response to educational support for refugees. One that extends beyond scholarships and looks at how we can create meaningful partnerships with organisations on the ground supporting young people trying to access many different levels of education, from primary to higher education.
Lebanon was chosen as there is a significant proportion of refugees that have fled there, and it was an area that we knew NGOs were working in with regards to education support. This isn’t to say that we want to restrict ourselves to the refugee populations in Lebanon but it is a start to investigate how the University can be useful. The Sanctuary Scholarships introduced by the university are open to all people from refugee and asylum seeking backgrounds.
According to Amnesty International, Lebanon hosts around 1.1 million refugees from Syria, this doesn’t include the Palestinian and Sudanese refugees in the country. We focused on the Beqaa Valley in Lebanon which the UNHCR estimates has around 365,555 refugees (31 March 2016).
We met with United Lebanon Youth, the Kayany Foundation, the Lebanese Association for Scientific Research, the British Council, UNICEF, the British Ambassador to Lebanon, the American University of Beirut, and UNHCR.
A major difficulty for Syrian refugees is that the Syrian curriculum is taught in Arabic whereas in Lebanon it is taught in English. This means that when young people arrive in Lebanon there is a big language barrier in schools. Syrian families are also wary about sending their children to public school for fear of discrimination which includes physical and verbal abuse from both staff and students. This shows that the refugee crisis is complex and is more than just a humanitarian endeavour. It was born out of real political turmoil and violent conflict, and unfortunately years of tension between Lebanon and Syria is being taken out on the most vulnerable of Syrian people seeking refuge.
Many different avenues of working together with these organisations were explored. We found commonalities with the American University of Beirut in terms of working together on research and training teachers to teach in the refugee camps in the Beqaa Valley. Our meetings with the Kayany Foundation, United Lebanon Youth, UNICEF, and UNHCR also emphasised the need to focus not just on higher education but also primary and secondary education.
We discussed mentoring opportunities between King’s staff/students and students in Lebanon, we also explored ways of working with other global institutions to recognise the qualifications these students are getting from makeshift schools in refugee camps to improve their chances of accessing higher education.
I’ll be updating as the project develops but if you would like to get more hands on and involved with the core group of students who are helping around this issue please drop me an email at Nadine.email@example.com
Nadine Almanasfi, KCLSU President