Even with shifts, only some Syrians in Lebanon get into school

News Stories, 17 April 2014

© UNHCR/L.Addario
Hanan Abdel Garbou, 11, teaches other children at an informal refugee settlement in a former onion factory in Lebanon's Bekaa valley. She is fortunate to attend a real school and passes on her knowledge to children who don't.

FAYDA, Lebanon, 17 April (UNHCR) "Miss Hanan" stands in the mud before her class her cousins. She turns and writes with a chunk of chalky rock on the door of a makeshift shelter next to her own. The door is her chalkboard, this is her classroom and her class is learning English. She writes the letters of the English alphabet and then pronounces them loudly. The class repeat each letter in unison.

Miss Hanan is 11. Most of her class of seven are the same age or younger. "Miss Hanan" is what they call her; Hanan Abdel Garbou is the boss and she describes herself as very strict. She's also lucky, although at first glance you wouldn't think so. This is Fayda in the Bekaa valley and 70 Syrian refugee families live in makeshift shelters in the ruins of a burnt-out onion factory. UNHCR provides the materials, to build the shelters, the stoves and coupons for food to the refugees here.

Hanan goes to school in the so-called 'second shift'. Lebanon's crowded public schools now open their doors to one wave of pupils in the morning and to a second wave after 2 p.m. Most of the second shift are Syrian refugees, 90,000 of them. Every day Hanan takes the school bus stuffed with 60 other refugee children for a half-hour trip to a school in a nearby town.

"I'm the lucky one in the family," she says. "My older sisters have to work so we can live. They went to school in Syria and wanted to do their school leaving exams but they couldn't."

"We love school," a little boy, a member of her 'class', says loudly and slowly in English. But school for him and the other children in the mud is this door where Hanan has written the English letters. Only half the children in this settlement go to the "second shift".

There are now more than a million Syrian refugees in Lebanon and across the country less than a quarter of the 400,000 refugee children eligible for school actually get to go.

Dora is six and part of the class in the mud. Her aunt says quietly that when she sees the other children lining up for the school bus in the afternoon, she cries. School, real school, is a prize, a dream for many refugee children.

Not far away in the Bekaa valley, in Kamed El Loz, is another school and more English classes. This is the Amel international education centre, set up and funded by UNHCR. This could be called the 'third shift'.

There are 130 pupils here, ranging in age from 6 to 14. They come three times a week in the late afternoon. They have been spotted and recommended by their regular teachers because they need help.

"They have trouble with English," one of the seven teachers at the centre says. "Many of these pupils were taught to see English as the 'enemy' language. So some approach it with fear, some treat English classes as 'free time' and play around. They associate Arabic with their country. The refusal to learn English is linked to the loss of their country. That's what we're trying to overcome."

These are remedial classes and, along with the classes, there is a psychologist to lead discussion groups for pupils to look at their fear and anger.

Meanwhile in the classes themselves, there is dictation. "Is your father at work now?" The teacher reads out as the pupils write. "No, he's not at work now."

One of the best pupils is 12-year-old Nadine. On the wall a sign exhorts the pupils to "make the world a beautiful garden." But Nadine, in fluent English, talks of loss. "I miss my family most. I miss my country."

At the burnt-out onion factory the English class is wrapping up. There are only two sessions a week because 'Miss Hanan' has to work preparing food for her family and helping her mother wash and clean.

"I really like English," Hanan says after class. "And school is great."

Like many refugee children, she was forced to flee her home in Syria and became internally displaced and missed a year of school before coming to Lebanon. She began again in an "informal" school in a tent with a Syrian refugee volunteer teacher. Now she's in the Lebanese system and having to learn not only English but French, in which several subjects are taught.

For her, learning is a privilege, something she realized when she saw the younger sister of a classmate trying to copy letters one day after school. She offered to show her how, and her career began.

And when she grows up? "Oh, I want to be a teacher, an English teacher."

By Don Murray in Fayda, Lebanon




UNHCR country pages

Stateless in Beirut

Since Lebanon was established as a country in the 1920s there has been a long-standing stateless population in the country.

There are three main causes for this: the exclusion of certain persons from the latest national census of 1932; legal gaps which deny nationality to some group of individuals; and administrative hurdles that prevent parents from providing proof of the right to citizenship of their newborn children.

Furthermore, a major reason why this situation continues is that under Lebanese law, Lebanese women cannot pass on their nationality to their children, only men can; meaning a child with a stateless father and a Lebanese mother will inherit their father's statelessness.

Although exact numbers are not known, it is generally accepted that many thousands of people lack a recognized nationality in Lebanon and the problem is growing due to the conflict in Syria. Over 50,000 Syrian children have been born in Lebanon since the beginning of the conflict and with over 1 million Syrian refugees in the country this number will increase.

Registering a birth in Lebanon is very complicated and for Syrian parents can include up to five separate administrative steps, including direct contact with the Syrian government. As the first step in establishing a legal identity, failure to properly register a child's birth puts him or her at risk of statelessness and could prevent them travelling with their parents back to Syria one day.

The consequences of being stateless are devastating. Stateless people cannot obtain official identity documents, marriages are not registered and can pass their statelessness on to their children Stateless people are denied access to public healthcare facilities at the same conditions as Lebanese nationals and are unable to own or to inherit property. Without documents they are unable to legally take jobs in public administrations and benefit from social security.

Children can be prevented from enrolling in public schools and are excluded from state exams. Even when they can afford a private education, they are often unable to obtain official certification.

Stateless people are not entitled to passports so cannot travel abroad. Even movement within Lebanon is curtailed, as without documents they risk being detained for being in the country unlawfully. They also do not enjoy basic political rights as voting or running for public office.

This is the story of Walid Sheikhmouss Hussein and his family from Beirut.

Stateless in Beirut

Thousands of desperate Syrian refugees seek safety in Turkey after outbreak of fresh fighting

Renewed fighting in northern Syria since June 3 has sent a further 23,135 refugees fleeing across the border into Turkey's southern Sanliurfa province. Some 70 per cent of these are women and children, according to information received by UNHCR this week.

Most of the new arrivals are Syrians escaping fighting between rival military forces in and around the key border town of Tel Abyad, which faces Akcakale across the border. They join some 1.77 million Syrian refugees already in Turkey.

However, the influx also includes so far 2,183 Iraqis from the cities of Mosul, Ramadi and Falujjah.

According to UNHCR field staff most of the refugees are exhausted and arrive carrying just a few belongings. Some have walked for days. In recent days, people have fled directly to Akcakale to escape fighting in Tel Abyad which is currently reported to be calm.

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The Winter Triplets: a Bitter Sweet New Year's Tale

The birth of triplets on New Year's Day in eastern Lebanon's Bekaa Valley should have been cause for celebration, but there was a terrible cost attached. The newborns' mother, Syrian refugee Amal, died shortly after giving birth, never having a chance to see her boys.

In a twist of fate, Amal's own mother had died giving birth to her. Amal, whose name means "hope," had been excited at the prospect of having triplets and had been confident about the birth. She named the three boys before they were born - Riyadh, Ahmed and Khaled - and told her husband to take good care of them in case anything happened to her.

The weather in the Bekaa Valley seemed to reflect the torment of Amal's family. Less than a week after she died, the worst winter storm in years swept through the region bringing freezing temperatures and dumping huge amounts of snow across the Bekaa. And so this family, far from home, grieve for their loss as they struggle to keep their precious new members safe and warm. Photojournalist Andrew McConnell, on assignment for UNHCR, visited the family.

The Winter Triplets: a Bitter Sweet New Year's Tale

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