view all campaigns
Syria: daily life a struggle to survive Donor pledges must prioritise urgent humanitarian plight of displaced Syrians Iraq: Hairdressing offers hope Jordan: A ray of hope Jordan: an arduous and perilous journey to safety Jordan: caught between memories of the past and the reality of today Jordan: Dreaming a future in a foreign land Jordan: dreaming of an open Syria Jordan: eat dust here or die in Syria Jordan: online education, harnessing the skills of refugees Jordan: refugees helping refugees JRS Middle East Director visits US Lebanon: a cup of tea in the snow Lebanon: before and after displacement, through a Syrian child's eyes Lebanon: Finding home in a new place Lebanon: keeping a special spirit alive Lebanon: language barriers prevent Syrian children from attending school Lebanon: refugee children counting on school Lebanon: Running with friends again Lebanon: School allows students to dream of the future Lebanon: Syrian children need more than a traditional education Lebanon: Syrian families flee to protect their children Middle East: protection of Syrian civilians must be world's priority Prayer for Syria: blessed are the peacemakers Six years on, Syrian people share stories of hope for the future Syria: amidst upheaval, the scope of services expands Syria: between fear of violence and the struggle to survive Syria: bread and fuel shortages in Aleppo add to daily woes Syria: bringing families together Syria: cries for peace Syria: dialogue is the solution, not war Syria: displaced Syrians struggle to find shelter Syria: encouraging internally displaced persons to be involved in emergency assistance Syria: enduring spirit remains despite the rubble Syria: examining the role of women from a humanitarian perspective in response to conflict Syria: Finding community at the Alberto Hurtado Centre Syria: holding onto normality in Aleppo Syria: humanitarian situation in the region deteriorating rapidly Syria: in conflict, persecution affects Muslims and Christians alike Syria: Iraqi refugees on the sidelines of yet another conflict Syria: JRS calls for safe passage and security to all civilian population in Aleppo Syria: JRS condemns every form of violence Syria: JRS expands emergency support in Aleppo Syria: JRS serves displaced in Aleppo - UPDATE 20 December 2016 Syria: Laila, art is in her heart Syria: Laila, art is in her heart Syria: Laila, art is in her heart Syria: let this fourth anniversary of the war be the last Syria: local networks of solidarity and JRS helping displaced families Syria: refugee finds his life's purpose at Al Mukhales Centre Syria: resilience and hope Syria: Shattered dreams but embers of hope Syria: thousands displaced after upsurge in violence in Sheikh Maqsoud Syria: turning pain into their most powerful weapon Syria: two years of conflict threaten children's education and well-being Syria: update on JRS emergency assistance SYRIA: Update on situation in Damascus Syria: urgent need for winter supplies Syria: violence in Damascus fuels hopelessness, fear Syria: volunteers are essential to the work of JRS Syria: water, the simplest gift of all Syria: why people flee and why they need protection Syria: work of Jesuit community recognised by German human rights foundation Syria: working under principles of neutrality, non-violence and inclusiveness USA: the Jesuit Refugee Service stands with Syria Voices of Europe unite to help Syrian refugees

A young girl sits in the Early Childhood class at the JRS FVDL centre in Beirut. (Jacquelyn Pavilon / Jesuit Refugee Service)

Beirut, 31 May 2016 – Each morning, 150 refugee children file in and out of the Jesuit Refugee Service Frans van der Lugt (JRS FVDL) remedial and early childhood educational centre in the busy Bourj Hammoud neighbourhood of Beirut, with another 150 arriving in the afternoon. The idea is to provide extra support to refugee children registered in Lebanese public schools. But in the public school system, Syrian children still find themselves facing many barriers – first and foremost: xenophobia.

Closing space. One out of four people residing in Lebanon's borders are Syrian refugees. While the country has opened its borders to hundreds of thousands, space in the informal labour market, housing developments and especially the education system is quickly closing. Syrians, out of desperation, often take jobs for less pay than Lebanese will, creating tensions due to competition in the job market. There is simply a lack of resources, such as electricity and infrastructure to accommodate so many Syrians. Similarly, seats in schools are limited. 

After living through years of conflict, many refugee children have missed out on years of education, or never even had the opportunity to start. In the Middle East, approximately 3.3 million Syrian children are out of school, and risk becoming a 'lost generation.' Last year, the Ministry of Education and High Education in Lebanon committed to providing 470,000 Syrian and vulnerable at-risk Lebanese children with access to education by the end of 2015. 

Though it did not reach its target, the government's Reach All Students with Education (RACE) programme, in partnership with the UN and other NGOs, successfully doubled the number of students enrolled in public schools – more than 150,000 refugee and nearly 200,000 Lebanese children in formal schools, plus more than 9,700 in Accelerated Learning Programmes designed to help students who have been out of school two years or longer to catch up. The RACE programme created space for the extra students by creating a second shift at over 200 Lebanese public schools. 

While the Lebanese government's commitment to refugee education is a welcome initiative, because most of the added Syrian children are not placed in the classrooms with Lebanese children, it does little in the way of integration. 

"In many ways, the situation for Syrians (in regards to education) in Lebanon is improving even from last year, with so many children receiving education in government programmes, but because it's only refugees in the second shift schools, integration is not taking place," Fr Ángel Benítez-Donoso SJ, Vice Principal and School Administrator at the JRS FVDL centre explained.

Discrimination. Many Syrian children feel they cannot attend these public schools, because they face discrimination by local Lebanese teachers, students and parents. Syrian parents recount Lebanese teachers yelling at, embarrassing or even hitting their children at school, simply for being Syrian. 

"If a Lebanese child gets slapped, a parent might come and make a fuss about it. If a Syrian child gets slapped, no one would make any deal of it," one mother, Rima Ahmadi*, told the JRS Home Visits team.

Staff at the JRS educational centres in Lebanon confirmed that these accounts of discrimination are sadly true, though the ministry of education is taking some actions where cases are reported.

"Last term we had – on several occasions – neighbours throw water from their windows on to our centre grounds, angry that we are giving free educational services to Syrians," Fr Benítez recalled.

Prevailing tensions. Roy Gebrayel, JRS Middle East and North Africa Education Officer, explained that the reasons for this xenophobia are both new and deep-seated tensions, but above all, complex. 

"There was a heavy Syrian political and security presence intervening in Lebanon until 2005, and many Lebanese people only remember that presence of Syrians. They do not differentiate to see that the people entering the country now are civilians in need of protection and education," he explained.

"It is a problem of the history between Syria and Lebanon. Many teachers remember old wounds, and express that prejudice through the Syrian students. It's a matter of nationality," said Fr Benítez. "Similarly, many Lebanese students will hear at home, 'Syrians are thieves; they're dangerous; you need to beware of Syrians.'"

Furthermore, many of the Syrians in Lebanon come from poorer Syrian communities and/or a more conservative Muslim background than is the norm in Lebanon; many Lebanese feel that there is an unwanted cultural shift taking place.

"The prejudices we see are often Lebanese Christians against Syrian Sunni Muslims, as they were the ones who historically intervened in Lebanon," Fr Benítez continued. 

"For all of these reasons, many Lebanese feel superior Syrians and see them as 'lesser,'" Gebrayel said. 

Long-term solutions. The JRS centres in Lebanon try to create space for learning where all are welcome, offering remedial and English language classes for Syrian refugee children who have been out of school. These six-month programmes are designed to provide additional support for Syrian children in the Lebanese public school system, which is in English or French as opposed to the Syrian system which uses Arabic. Furthermore JRS offers Non-Formal Early Childhood Education for preschool aged children to prepare them to enter into Lebanese primary schools.

The JRS staff, comprising half Lebanese and half Syrian volunteer teachers, both male and female, Christian and Muslim, models diversity and the possibility of living together peacefully. 

"We don't serve Christians or Muslims. We just serve humans. I can't think of any other organisation in Lebanon or Syria besides JRS that doesn't cater to a specific religion," say Hassan Aoun* of the JRS Home Visits team.

"In the Lebanese schools, we often feel like animals. Here feel like human beings," Rima said, who says she wants her children to remain in the JRS centres.

However, integrating Syrian children into the public school system is crucial to ensure they can receive education in the long-term. As Syria becomes more and more unstable by the day, returning home in the near future is out of the question for most Syrians.  In order for their education to be societally recognised, children need to obtain an educational certificate, which can only be granted by public schools. For this reason, JRS supports Syrian children academically and psychologically so they can succeed in public schools.

All of the children enrolled in the JRS FVDL centre are currently enrolled in the public school system. Unfortunately, due to a discrimination and other societal barriers, many dropout. Still, JRS encourages the students and their parents to take this route regardless.

"While our transitional programmes are necessary to help children get back on their feet, here, the students have a limited curriculum. They need to move on, to open a horizon of possibilities. In the Lebanese schools, life can become a bit more normal," Fr Benítez said. 

As the Syrian war enters its sixth year, it is important to ensure that displaced Syrian children do not become a lost generation. Majed Mardini, a teacher at the JRS centre in Jbeil said it well. "We always tell the children they need to be educated because, they are the ones who will rebuild Syria." 

--Jacquelyn Pavilon, JRS International Communications Coordinator

*This name has been changed.