The difficult conditions endured by Syrian refugees has impacted the education of their children, especially as the years of the war waged by the Assad regime against the Syrian community have dragged on. This problem has affected them from different angles. In Lebanon, where Syrians suffer the bitterness of racism as well as the bitterness of displacement, the issue of children’s education has stood out, with a Lebanese television channel shooting poisonous arrows into Lebanese society.
The Lebanese TV channel OTV in March broadcast a report in which it was said that Syrian students in Lebanese public schools had caused Lebanese students to drop out. It attributed the dropouts to “Lebanese refusing to mix their children with a culture different from that of the Lebanese family,” so that the Lebanese community will not affected by the Syrian children's behavior, and asked: “How long will Lebanese public schools remain open to the Syrian displaced?”
This channel is owned by the Lebanese President Michel Aoun, and his programs and news have not lagged in following the effects of the Syrian presence on Lebanon and its demographics. In particular, it has closely followed the statements of Gebran Bassil, Aoun’s son in law, who is one of Lebanon’s most prominent anti-refugee politicians and is supported by the Lebanese militia Hezbollah, which is in line with him in its view that Syrian refugees are a source of “terrorism.”
Talal Mustafa, a researcher in the Harmoun Center for Contemporary Studies, told Geroun: “The contents of the report reflect a racist and hateful Lebanese culture toward Syrians in general. This hatred goes back to the Syrian regime’s infamous security and military practices in Lebanon from the mid-'70s to the time of the Syrian military withdrawal from Lebanon in 2006.”
Mustafa added: “Unfortunately, as a result of their constant fear and inability to confront the Syrian security practices in Lebanon, some Lebanese factions get a kind of payback against Syrian citizens — especially laborers — and this has been apparent since the '70s. This hatred has grown and increased since the influx of thousands of forcibly displaced Syrian families.”
Mustafa said that the real problem went back to “the lack of some Lebanese's distinguishing between a culture of hatred for an oppressive regime which practiced such security practices against Lebanese, and an unacceptable culture of hatred toward Syrian citizens forcibly displaced by the same regime, who are now in dire need of a culture that embraces them — especially their children in the schools.”
In the same context, Ibrahim al-Hassan, former head of the primary education department in the Syrian Interim Government, said that “this racism, especially against children, is a form of moral and sometimes physical persecution, and this affects a number of generations, not just one. The child is shaped by the surrounding conditions, and this raises fears that the effects will not be just now, but in the future as well, as uneducated generations will emerge, while at the same time they will have bitter memories of discrimination and racism against them.”
Hassan said that “responsibility for what is happening against the refugees falls on the host countries, by virtue of law, and therefore the rights associations and local activists should follow these issues and offer statistics, such as the number of students who need education and the conditions of their families, and identifying urgent needs, as children are always the victims to suffer most from wars.”
Hassan said that the “countries of the European Union, for example, should take a direct interest in refugee children, guarantee their education and protect their safety, so that the suffering they are enduring does not affect them psychologically.”
In this regard, the Muhajar News website published a report on March 30 saying that there was a “generation of Syrian refugee children in Lebanon growing up without documents or education” and that parents were concerned as “there is no end to the war on the horizon after seven years of fighting.”
The report said that “Syrian refugee camps appear in the hundreds on the main roads on the plains of the Bekaa, covered with the nylon fabric of the United Nations refugee commissioner.” In a small refugee camp in Bar Elias, for example, a family lives “in huts on ground that turns to a swamp in winter and which can’t be heated except with difficulty, and which are unbearable in the summer because of the heat.” The refugees “do not see a future there, especially for their children.” It continued: “The biggest portion of residents area are children between the ages of 2 and 17.”
Through a personal initiative by one of the refugees (named Madin), a school for children was established in a camp to teach reading and writing. Every day between 60 and 70 children from a number of camps receive lessons from Syrian volunteer teachers, and classes are divided according to education level, not age. However, there are no qualifications at the end of the class.
Muwaffaq Mulham, a teacher in a Bekaa camp, described the psychological situation of children as “deteriorating,” and added: “Many children do not have identity cards or passports or an education. Parents are forced to work long hours and leave children on their own. You cannot talk about a familial atmosphere in the camp, but you need to continue the struggle to avoid losing a generation of children.”
Syrian children forced to flee abroad have dropped out of the educational process, according to Mustafa, because of “a number of overlapping reasons, most importantly poverty and material need. Some families have lost the head of the household and the children have been forced to join the labor market early and leave school. The host country has also not enforced compulsory education for Syrians, and the aversion of Syrian students toward their schools is a result of the change in curriculums and teaching methods, as well as language, in foreign countries.”
He said that ignoring these generations would have “effects on the future as well, in terms of raising illiteracy rates and unemployment among dropouts in the future, because of their inability to keep up with the technologies of the era which demand high levels of education.”
Likewise, he said, on the individual level “we will find they are unable to understand the dangers around them, making joining military and mercenary militias easy because of the lack of political and social awareness. The possibility of moral and social deviancy will also be there, and this is a major future price of what has happened and is still happening.”
For his part, Hassan said: “If we don’t remedy this education gap and deal with the situation inside and outside Syria, including in Lebanon, we will be faced with a real multifaceted crisis.” He said that education was not isolated from the surrounding situation and that "because of the repercussions of the war children need special psychological and social care. The shocks of the war have effects on the psychological formation, and work needs to be done to integrate them into society in parallel with the educational process, in order for it to bear fruits.”
He continued: “Our Lebanese brothers must be aware of these effects and not increase the suffering of refugee children so that a generation does not grow up remembering war and racism, rather than clearing away the painful memories and replacing them with constructive meanings.”
He pointed to the Human Rights Watch report in 2016 that said that about 500,000 Syrian children of school age were in Lebanon and half of them did not go to school and could not read, write or do calculations.
This article was translated and edited by The Syrian Observer. Responsibility for the information and views set out in this article lies entirely with the author.