Documents are hard to come by for Syrian refugees around the world. Refugee children in Lebanon are set to struggle academically exactly for that reason.
Ten years of war in Syria gave the world millions of refugees. Thousands have left everything behind, including documents concerning their identification, degree, and information on their birth.
As a result, a major bureaucratic barrier follows them wherever they take refuge. This time, it's in Lebanon where Syrian refugee children have been banned by the country’s Education Ministry from sitting school exams.
A lack of official documentation is cited as the problem, according to Human Rights Watch and the Center for Lebanese Studies.
For Syrian refugees, obtaining legal residency is the only way to remain in Lebanon lawfully, but the report says only 20 percent of those refugees were able to achieve this. Creating procedural obstacles and imposing such stringent conditions, the country’s bureaucracy is responsible for this grim reality, the report says.
Some school officials had asked children to provide documents, including one about residency, or face a ban from taking the exams despite having waived the requirement for proof of residency in previous years.
Under current circumstances, there is no guarantee that students who are required to take exams at the end of Grade 9 and Grade 12 will be able to take them - that is unless a last-minute waiver is issued. This may further compromise the education of Syrian refugee children in the country.
“Lebanon is undermining the hundreds of millions of dollars donors provide to educate refugee children by blocking them from taking school exams,” the report quoted Maha Shuayb, director of the Center for Lebanese Studies, as saying.
“International donors that have given generously to prevent a lost generation should call on the government to take down these barriers to education once and for all,” said Shuayb.
Only less than half of the 660,000, and more, school-age Syrian refugees that are in Lebanon, attend school. This is due to many things, including extreme poverty, lack of access to transportation, remedial classes, as well as bullying and discrimination.
Some families, who have risked their lives by smuggling themselves into Syria just to obtain the required papers, have failed in that mission, the report said, adding that others have admitted having to sell their household furniture or accumulated new debts just to be able to buy the necessary documentation.
Many countries deem Syria unsafe still. International human rights organisations have repeatedly highlighted the reports of people who have gone missing on their way back to Syria. When attempts were made, many were arrested or conscripted to the military and forced to participate in wartime abuses.
Lebanon’s current policy may create a double risk for these children’s families, both by risking their lives returning to Syria in order to obtain papers, and doing it via smugglers, because the Syrian border crossing is closed.
According to the World Food Programme’s December 2020 figures, nine out of ten Syrian refugee families in Lebanon are now living in extreme poverty. It means that with the negative impact of the Covid-19 crisis, deepening poverty is making refugees pay for the other costs of taking the exams even if they're able to obtain the documents in alternative ways.
Currently, 28 students who couldn’t register for the exams or couldn’t provide the necessary papers, might miss the examinations. A last-minute waiver may allow them to sit them, but the problems which make education harder for refugees will remain unless the government finds a permanent solution, HRW says.