Lebanon News

Palestinian students risk missing school year

A school girl falls on the ground in Ain al-Hilweh, Sept. 18, 2019. (The Daily Star/Mohammed Zaatari)

AIN AL-HILWEH/BEIRUT: Many students recently began the new school year while others are preparing to begin in the coming days. But one group of schoolchildren risks missing out on the school year: Palestinian refugees. Scores of Palestinian students Wednesday protested a recent circular that calls for implementing a hierarchy in registering students in public schools. The circular, public school principals say, would give Lebanese students priority in registering before students with Lebanese mothers. Non-Lebanese students are to be put at the bottom of the list.

However, principals also face a separate problem: They can’t reregister former Palestinian students at their schools due to an increase in the number of Lebanese students.

The country’s ailing economic situation has forced a number of Lebanese families to withdraw their children from private schools and place them in public schools.

Public schools are reaching capacity, preventing refugees from registering for the school year.

Education Minister Akram Chehayeb had previously said that Lebanese and Palestinian students would be treated equally when it came to school registration.

But the circular from the Education Ministry, principals say, prevents this.

Racha al-Sabeh, a student, spoke in the name of the protesters gathered Wednesday.

Sabeh called on the Lebanese government to address the issues of Palestinian refugees in Lebanon - from their being prevented from owning property or from working in certain professions to the violation of their right to education.

“We want to go back [Palestine], we don’t want to be naturalized,” she added.

Sabeh’s comments come amid political pressure on Lebanon and Palestinian refugees, and on the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine refugees, UNRWA to be shut down.

This isn’t the first time Palestinians have protested the public schooling issue.

It comes after a recent Labor Ministry crackdown on illegal foreign labor.

Fatah Movement Secretary Fathi Abu al-Ardat followed up on the issue, saying the education minister’s decision to allow Palestinian students to enroll in public schools still stood and that there hadn’t been any modifications.

The reason Palestinian students hadn’t been able to register in public schools in Sidon, he added, was due to the increased numbers of Palestinian students wishing to enroll there.

Abu al-Ardat said he would follow up on the matter with the education minister and with Sidon MP Bahia Hariri to find a solution.

“The education minister has instructed public schools to extend their registration periods till the beginning of October 2019.” Abu al-Ardat said.

A delegation from the Palestinian Democratic Youth Union, headed by the federation president in Lebanon, Youssef Ahmad, visited the head of the southern educational area Bassem Abbas at his office in the Sidon Serail.

Various public school principals from Sidon were present.

The issue of former Palestinian students being denied enrollment at their schools was discussed at the meeting, in addition to the inability of new Palestinian students to register in public schools.

Assef Moussa, head of the Palestinian Students Office in Lebanon, reiterated the problem that Palestinian students were having a hard time registering in public schools this year.

He said he would follow up with various officials in the education sector in Lebanon, to find a solution and guarantee Palestinians their right to education.

Palestinians also protested inside Ain al-Hilweh Wednesday against the Labor Ministry crackdown.

A group of protestors gathered by the camp’s main entrance, protesting against Labor Minister Camille Abousleiman’s decision, which requires Palestinians to have work permits to be employed in Lebanon.

They called on the ministerial committee to quickly make a decision on this matter.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on September 19, 2019, on page 2.

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