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SYRIA DEEPLY

Tough Labor For Syria's Refugee Students

Ali, who was a French literature student at Aleppo University, now works in an iron factory in Turkey.
Ali, who was a French literature student at Aleppo University, now works in an iron factory in Turkey.
NourIddin Abdo

GAZIANTEP — Syrian university students unable to complete their degrees due to the country’s ongoing conflict and displaced to Turkey are now jobless, or scraping by as day laborers.

Fares, a 29-year-old from Kfar Nabal in the Idlib province, was studying for his final university exams when the security situation in the country made traveling to campus impossible.

After years in medical school, he had just completed his training at the Ibn Rashed Hospital in Aleppo. He planned to specialize in the cardiovascular system, but was forced to drop those plans when it became impossible to travel to Aleppo for his final exams. The journey was just 80 km, but constant shelling made it too risky.

“Only two of my 12 fellow students from all around Syria sat for the exams,” Fares said. He is now trying to find a job to support five of his family members who are in the Turkish border city of Reyhanli, which has been flooded by refugees.

He is well aware that without any formal certificate or proof of education, all of his studies are pretty much worthless on the Turkish job market.

There is no official centralized documentation of the names and specializations of higher-education students, many of whom have been unable to complete their degrees over the last three years.

Ali lives near Fares, and was a third-year French language student at the University of Aleppo when fighting forced him to leave his village, in the Jabal al-Zawiyeh region of Idlib province. Rebels forced the Syrian army out of the town, along with pro-regime militiamen and residents who, like Ali, were fighting alongside them.

He retreated to the province of Aleppo, but did not dare go back to university, fearing retaliation.

Today, he works in an iron factory, where he spends any spare moments he gets browsing the internet searching for a way to continue his studies at a Turkish state university.

“I have attempted to enrol six times at Turkish universities but, each time, it gets brought to a halt when they ask me to show my records from the University of Aleppo, which I cannot go back and get because of the terrible security situation,” he said.

Wishing you had made a different decision

The financial cost of traveling from one Turkish city to another in order to to apply to universities, only to be rejected, is another burden. Ali said that given the current situation, he wishes he had learned a trade back home in Syria instead of seeking a degree.

“If I had learned a profession like carpentry or ironmaking when a child, I would not have to face these hardships today. Now, I’m neither an expert carpenter nor a teacher like I was supposed to be. Now I’m nothing,” he said.

Students in opposition-held areas have been increasingly left behind during the course of the conflict, both by the regime and by new opposition authorities that have sprung up. Compared to the attention they’ve bestowed on the formation of Islamic courts and relief societies, education has received little support.

The Office of the National Higher Commission for Learning and Higher Education, under the umbrella of the opposition National Coalition, is considered the only body which could be responsible for the stabilization of the education sector in rebel held-areas.

Jalal al-Din al-Khanji, its vice president, has talked about obstacles facing them, including funding and poor coordination.

There are large numbers of former students like Ali and Fares. The boys estimated that no more that 20 percent of university students are still in Syrian classrooms.

Neither Ali nor his peers had heard about any action taken by the National Coalition to deal with their cases, or even to keep track of them.

“If we seek to build an institution-based Syria, dependent on efficient and educated people, most of those capable people who have degrees will be from the supporters of the present regime, who were able to continue their university,” Fares said.

“Meanwhile, those who started this revolution to get rid of the present regime and its problems will be without education. How do you imagine that will turn out?

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The worst drought in 40 years, which has deepened from the effects of climate change, is hitting the young the hardest around the Horn of Africa. A close-up look at the victims, and attempts to save lives and limit lasting effects on an already fragile region in Kenya.

Photo of five mothers holding their malnourished children

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Georgina Gustin

KAKUMA — The words "Stabilization Ward" are painted in uneven black letters above the entrance, but everyone in this massive refugee camp in Kakuma, Kenya, calls it ya maziwa: The place of milk.

Rescue workers and doctors, mothers and fathers, have carried hundreds of starving children through the doors of this one-room hospital wing, which is sometimes so crowded that babies and toddlers have to share beds. A pediatric unit is only a few steps away, but malnourished children don’t go there. They need special care, and even that doesn’t always save them.

In an office of the International Rescue Committee nearby, Vincent Opinya sits behind a desk with figures on dry-erase boards and a map of the camp on the walls around him. “We’ve lost 45 children this year due to malnutrition,” he says, juggling emergencies, phone calls, and texts. “We’re seeing a significant increase in malnutrition cases as a result of the drought — the worst we’ve faced in 40 years.”

From January to June, the ward experienced an 800 percent rise in admissions of children under 5 who needed treatment for malnourishment — a surge that aid groups blame mostly on a climate change-fueled drought that has turned the region into a parched barren.

Opinya, the nutrition manager for the IRC here, has had to rattle off these statistics many times, but the reality of the numbers is starting to crack his professional armor. “It’s a very sad situation,” he says, wearily. And he believes it will only get worse. A third year of drought is likely on the way.

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