Lebanon stands out as one of the countries with the largest number of refugees per capita, currently hosting around 1.5 million Syrian refugees. The country has also faced heavy economic and financial crises of its own since 2019. In addition, Lebanon is still recovering from the devastating explosion which occurred in the port of Beirut in 2020 while trying to combat the hardship of the COVID-19 pandemic. These crises not only affect the Lebanese people but also the Syrian refugees living there, most of whom have limited capabilities to support themselves. This situation has led to an extreme rise in poverty among both host and refugee populations in Lebanon.  The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) estimates that around 88% of Syrian refugees in Lebanon are living in extreme poverty.  Major issues they face include poor access to education and health care, and difficulties obtaining legal recognition and personal documents.

Child labor, loss of education, and mistreatment

As a result of job shortages for refugees and parent’s inability to work, many Syrian refugee children are forced to renounce schooling and enter the labor market at a young age. Child labor is only one of the reasons why Syrian children do not attend school. According to an analysis carried out by the UNHCR, there are other major barriers in place which make it difficult to access education. Some are prevented from attending school due to financial issues, while others are left out due to a lack of educational opportunities where they are staying, the inability to pay the cost of transportation, or rejection by schools. There is also a strong presence of discrimination in Lebanon. Not only are refugee children bullied by other kids, they also experience mistreatment from their teachers. The unequal treatment of students by teachers has a huge impact on young children and can have a great effect on their educational outcomes.

The role of NGOs

The UNHCR is the UN’s main agency that aids and protects refugees. Nowadays, there are around half a million Syrian refugees between the ages 3-18. The UNHCR reports a recent increase in enrollment of Syrian children in Lebanese schools, though half of refugee children are still not attending. Apart from aiding and protecting refugees, the UNHCR provides counseling and raises awareness of educational barriers and issues concerning the children to the Lebanese authorities. Numerous volunteer activities support and provide knowledge to the students. One such activity is the remote teaching of English, provided by SLU Madrid. These classes help children improve their English so they can follow their classes in Lebanese schools. It is extremely important for a child to keep up their education and not to fall behind, especially if he or she is not able to get any help at home.

Another non-profit organization dedicated to saving, serving, and supporting refugees, including Syrians in Lebanon, is the Spain-based ONG Rescate. Founded in 1960, Rescate is providing direct attention to the issues of Syrian refugees. They are currently working to ensure international protection, legal, psychological, and social support, and aiding in the social integration process of refugees.

Thanks to the work of agencies like these, Syrian children in Lebanon are slowly but surely heading towards acceptance from their peers and gaining access to a quality education.

Blazo Kustudic is a SLU Madrid undergraduate student majoring in International Business and Spanish. This article is part of the Service Learning Project offered by SLU Madrid.