Students in Syria: Simple needs and hopeful dreams

18 June 2014
Students in Syria: Simple Needs and Hopeful Dreams
Students in Syria: Simple Needs and Hopeful Dreams

“One morning, I went out to buy some food while my father was at work”, says Mohamed, a teenage Palestine refugee from Yarmouk camp, in Syria. “By the time I returned home, a missile had hit. My mother and two of my sisters were killed instantly. My two other sisters were injured.”

In Yarmouk, once the centre of Palestinian life in Syria, four years of sustained conflict have had a dire impact on residents, including young Palestine refugees like Mohamed and other students who attended UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) schools. They suffered violence like that which killed Mohamed’s family. In addition, Yarmouk endured several months of siege beginning in July 2013. Access to the outside world was almost completely cut off, and no food or medicine could enter. The situation was particularly brutal for the very young, the elderly or the infirm – and also for the young people trying to build a better future.

Tabarak, a ninth-grade student from Yarmouk, explains the impact: “Our study was at a low level because of our hunger. The students couldn’t concentrate at school; they used to faint because of dehydration.” She adds, “Many children passed away because of dehydration.”

In the summer of 2014, Mohammad and Tabarak were among 120 students who were able to leave Yarmouk to attend UNRWA support classes at the Agency’s Palestine School in Alliance, Damascus, which helps ninth graders pass the important national exams.  “As we received aid”, says Tabarak, “life improved. Volunteer teachers assisted us in the UNRWA school. They were good to us.”

The greatest challenge for UNRWA is to keep funding services to provide food, education, health care  and protection to Palestine refugees in Syria. Of the roughly 540,000 Palestine refugees registered in Syria, at least 270,000 are internally displaced, with a further 80,000 forced to flee to other countries.

UNRWA has been able to respond rapidly to Palestine refugees’ growing humanitarian needs in Syria, Lebanon and Jordan, partly due to a generous contribution of US$ 28.1 million from the United States, through the Bureau for Population, Refugees, and Migration of the Department of State. Funds allocated to Syria's emergency appeal are immediately spent on direct delivery of humanitarian assistance. But the great strides made in sustaining and protecting Palestine refugees from Syria remain at high risk of suspension without substantial additional financial support from other donors .

If significant funds are not received by August, UNRWA will not be able to proceed with the next round of cash assistance – which, as Deputy Commissioner-General Ellis explains, “has proved to be the most flexible, cost-effective and dignified means to meet Palestine refugees’ most urgent needs.” Without that assistance, approximately 440,000 people would not be able to meet their minimum humanitarian needs, like basic shelter and food.

“The conflict is a tremendous burden, first and foremost in the human toll of those affected by the violence”, says UNRWA Deputy Commissioner-General Margot Ellis. “As needs deepen, UNRWA’s responsibilities grow and we find ourselves more hard-pressed to provide our life-saving services to Palestinian refugees from Syria. Mohamed and Tabarak’s stories show the human consequences of the conflict in Syria. They underline the need for UNRWA to be quick and effective in providing care and assistance.”

Educational aspirations like Tabarak’s are at particular risk: “We wish that our future will be better and our children will not experience what we have experienced. We would love to be doctors and teachers”, she says. “My wish is to study well and become an English teacher.” To keep these dreams for a better future flourishing, UNRWA has to be able to ensure that Palestine refugees can meet their essential needs – including food, which remains a high priority in Yarmouk and other places throughout Syria. 

Two UNRWA students from Gaza enjoy recess in their first day of school. © 2017 UNRWA Photo by Rushdi Al-Saraj
Help send a Palestine refugee child to school