From Syria to Jordan to Mexico: complementary pathways provide hope for Syrian refugees

Zakariya a Syrian refugee currently living in Zaatari Camp, will be one of the first refugees to travel to Mexico on a Habesha Scholarship in December

For the last eight years Zakariya has called Zaatari Camp home. His one room caravan has been his haven, far from the fighting which forced him to flee. Over the years he has planted seeds, installed a fountain and cultivated a garden outside his front door to ‘make it feel less of a temporary existence’. But now, through a scholarship supported by UNHCR and Mexico, that is all changing.

“Next week, I will be as far from Zaatari Camp as I ever thought possible. I will be in a world I can’t imagine,” he says.

The Habesha scholarship, which Zakariya has been selected for, will see him travel over 12,000km to Mexico City to study a BA in psychology. Established in 2015 as a humanitarian civil society initiative to help Syrians, the scholarship was expanded at the Global Refugee Forum last year and now offers a complementary pathway for refugees to be admitted to Mexico.  Zakariya will be the first refugee from Jordan to travel as part of it.

Despite being thirty-two years old, Zakariya states that he has never given up on his dream of completing his education, and the fact that this is now happening is a big relief.

Zakariya studies at home in his caravan in Zaatari Camp, Jordan. 

When the conflict in Syria started, he was studying economics and accounting at Damascus University. After he fled to Jordan, however, he quickly had to shift his focus towards earning a salary to send back to his family who remained in Syria.

Two years ago, however, Zakariya embarked on a training course in psychology, facilitated by Questscope, an NGO operating in Zaatari Camp, the first step of his current journey.

“The circumstances that most of the people of my country lived through have been very harsh. It has impacted us completely; it has impacted a whole generation. But understanding even the basics of psychology can help you understand why you feel a certain way. It can help you get through the trauma.”

It was this perspective which has motivated Zakariya’s future endeavors. After completing the three-month course in psychology, Zakariya took a job at Questscope helping in arranging the logistics for their psychosocial counselling sessions. He has since helped numerous young refugees navigate the challenges they face in the camp but believes that an actual degree in psychology will allow him to take this one step further.

Zakariya and his colleagues at the Questscope community centre in Zaatari Refugee Camp plan for an upcoming classs. After completing a training course in psychology in the camp two years ago, Zakariya has been working as a logistical organizer for pyscho-social counseling sessions.

In fact, it was also Zakariya’s manager at Questscope – an American humanitarian worker called Mike – who encouraged him to apply for the Habesha scholarship after seeing his diligence at work.

In addition to his work at Questscope, another reason that Zakariya decided to apply for a scholarship in psychology is motivated by the lack of psychologists and psychiatrists both in Jordan and back home in Syria. In total, there are only two psychiatrists, 0.27 psychologists and 0.04 nurses for every 100,000 inhabitants in Jordan.

“Sometimes it is difficult to get an appointment with a specialist here,” explains Zakariya, “maybe in the future I will be able to help.”

Zakariya is pictured working in a mobile phone repair shop in Zaatari Refugee Camp alongside his friend Hussein.

Meanwhile, Zakariya has now started to learn Spanish and the Mexican culture: “There is a stereotype that Mexico is violent, but Mike told me that it’s not true, that they have a sociable culture and nice food.”

Through scholarships like Habesha and other complementary pathways such as family reunification and labor mobility, UNHCR continues to look for opportunities to provide third country solutions for refugees. We wish Zakariya full success in his new journey.