Lebanon News

Syrian refugee children face fear, anxiety, lack of education

Of some 75,000 Syrian refugee children in Lebanon, World Vision estimates only 20 percent are attending school.

BEIRUT: The majority of Syrian refugees in Lebanon are women and children, and the latter group, accounting for around 75,000, are suffering from a lack of education, fear and anxiety, with many forced to find work, according to a new report from World Vision released Tuesday.

The report, entitled “Robbed of Childhood, Running from War,” highlights the daily struggles of Syrian refugee children living in Lebanon, and is based on over 100 interviews with children from 7 to 13 years old, currently living in the Bekaa Valley.

While the report cites many sobering accounts of the experience of displaced children in Lebanon, many also tell stories of “how they try to be a source of joy and happiness for their loved ones, even in the darkest of hours.”

“Syrian children in Lebanon are shouldering a burden that is not theirs to carry,” the report adds.

There are currently 159,277 registered Syrian refugees in Lebanon, a figure which includes those who have expressed their intention to register.

However, the actual total is thought to be much higher, with the World Vision report estimating that the real number is believed to be as much as 30 percent higher.

“It’s heartbreaking to hear stories like this from children,” said Anita Delhaas-Van Dijk, World Vision Lebanon’s national director.

“Many children are living in dire circumstances, hunkering down against winter storms in plastic sheeting and broken building. But to them, returning home, going to school and feeling safe are just as important as food and shelter.”

In terms of education, the Lebanese government has technically authorized its public schools to accept Syrian refugees, but spaces are limited and the World Vision report estimates that only 20 percent of Syria refugee children are registered.

For those who are in school, the cost of books and other equipment is often prohibitive, and the differences with the Syrian curriculum and feelings of exclusion often render the school experience a difficult one.

As such, the dropout rate is twice the national average for Lebanon children, the report says.

When a child is out of school for a protracted period of time, the report states, “the greater the need and difficulty for catch-up; and the harder it is to reintegrate into former schools.

As one 11-year-old cited in the report, Rouba said, “I started to forget the shape of some letters.”

Other children, the report states, “speak about seeing children shot in school while back in Syria, and the fear they now associate with school as a result.”

“Refugee children can easily fall behind their peers, socially and educationally, and later struggle to flourish in society,” the report adds.

Some children are forced to find work, with many seeing it as their responsibility, such as 14-year-old Yazan, who describes himself as an adult “and sees it as his duty to put aside his education in order to go to work.”

In terms of social integration, many children spoke of exclusion and bullying. Omar said, “I’m not playing with Lebanese children because they are saying things that I do not want to hear about me ... So we stay away from them and go inside.”

Children generally see their lives in Lebanon as temporary, the report states, and reassure each other by saying things such as, “Don’t be sad. You will go back home safe and sound.”

Many speak of their desire to return home, with 7-year-old Rama saying, “I want to go back to Syria to wear my new dress and play with my toy, even for one day. I can die the next day.”

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on December 19, 2012, on page 4.

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