BEIRUT, Lebanon, 16 October 2012 – Ten-year-old Ahmed* and his family have come to Lebanon from a Palestinian refugee camp in the Syrian Arab Republic. They fled their camp near Damascus when fighting intensified. One day, Ahmed’s 12-year-old sister Mona had stumbled across a bloody corpse close to their home. Report by Melanie Sharpe
UNICEF reports on refugee children making a difficult transition to their lives in Lebanon.
“It was terrible,” says Ahmed, “but I’d rather be there. In Syria, it was much nicer. I hardly know anyone here, and there is no place to play.”
Leaving all behind
As of September, about 1,100 Palestinian refugees had crossed from the Syrian Arab Republic into Jordan, while 5,100 had entered Lebanon. These families are particularly vulnerable and face harsh economic and legal restrictions.
Ahmed, his two sisters and his mother Mariam now share a small room in a run-down apartment in Shatila, one of the 12 official Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon. Shatila camp was established more than 60 years ago. Poverty rates are high, and conditions are cramped. More than 8,500 people live within one square km.
Mariam says that her husband is still in the Syrian Arab Republic. She has had no contact with him since they left. The family fled without any of their belongings.
Mariam can’t work legally in Lebanon. She doesn’t know how she will afford to send her children to school.
Back to school for all children
With more than two thirds of Palestinian refugees living in severe poverty in Lebanon, few families can afford to pay for school supplies and books. According to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), dropout rates among Palestinian refugee children aged 6 to 18 are high – approximately 18 per cent.
UNICEF is supporting the efforts of UNRWA to ensure access to education for all Palestinian refugee children living in Lebanon. Children who have recently arrived from the Syrian
Arab Republic are among those targeted through these initiatives.
“We are committed to support UNRWA in ensuring all children access their right to education – Palestinian children in Lebanon, and now children who have fled the violence in Syria,” says UNICEF Lebanon Representative Annamaria Laurini. “Many of the Syrian children and families are sheltering in the most vulnerable and poor communities here in Lebanon, which puts additional strains on the very few resources that exist. They are in urgent need of basic support.”
UNICEF and UNWRA recently distributed back-to-school kits to all Palestinian children in UNRWA schools across Lebanon.
Providing remedial help, scaling up basic care
Integration into the Lebanese curriculum at secondary level is difficult for these children. While Arabic is the official language in Lebanon, mathematics and all scientific courses are taught in English or French in all public schools in Lebanon, and in Arabic in the Syrian Arab Republic.
In addition to distributing school supplies, UNICEF, along with UNRWA, plans to support remedial classes for Palestinian refugee children from the Syrian Arab Republic who have missed school because of the conflict. These classes will also help children to adapt to the Lebanese curriculum.
Moreover, health programmes that provide basic, but life-saving, care, such as immunizations, need to be scaled up urgently, as do community and family support services to help address the emotional impact of conflict and displacement.
Eye to the future
Back in his family’s tiny room in Shatila camp, Ahmed says he is worried about having to take classes in English, but is looking forward to going back to school.
“I hope one day to be a doctor to help cure other people,” he says.
With conflict still raging in the Syrian Arab Republic, it is likely Ahmed will spend this school year in Shatila – now the second refugee camp he has called home.
*Names have been changed to protect the identities of the Palestinian refugees