Higher education programme helps refugees in Syria continue studies

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(UNHCR) – Excelling at high school is no easy task for teenagers. But for Fatima, an 18-year-old Iraqi refugee student living in Syria, it has been harder than most.

Amid the escalating crisis, Fatima studied for 12 hours every day, from 6am to 6pm, trying to avoid the power cuts. Her hard work paid off when she scored 94.5 per cent on the public high school exam – the second highest score among all refugee students in Syria. “While studying, the only light that was guaranteed was the sunlight every day,” she recalls.

Fatima’s mother, Sulafa, feared that her daughter was on the verge of a nervous breakdown. “The pressure was immense, especially during the days prior to the exam,” she says. “But she gathered her courage to sit for the exams and she did a great job, and we are very proud of her.”

Now, with the help of a UNHCR higher education programme, Fatima has found her way to study medicine at the University of Damascus. She hopes that one day she can use her skills to help her fellow Iraqis live a better life. “If it wasn’t for UNHCR’s scholarship, I would never have been able to make it to college,” she says.

Fatima’s scholarship also means that she will not be compelled to register remotely in a college in Iraq, unlike her siblings, who must make the dangerous trip twice a year to sit exams.

The higher education programme for refugee students living in Syria has helped hundreds of refugee students go to college since it was launched in 1999. It was funded by the German government as part of UNHCR’s Albert Einstein German Academic Refugee programme, or DAFI. It is now funded by Belgium and Italy using the same scholarship model.

Rima Debsi, a senior UNHCR programme assistant, says the programme has helped in changing the lives of refugee youth and opened new job opportunities for them. “This enables them to support their families financially and rebuild their future which they have created with their hard work, persistence and determination,” she said.

Fatima, meanwhile, hopes that one day soon she can return home and live in peace, harmony and prosperity. For now, she is focusing on rebuilding that brighter future – one hopefully for everyone.

By Firas Al-Khateeb in Damascus, Syria

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