Hamza was only 12 years old when the war broke out in Syria, and he was forced to flee with his family to Beirut. His father owned a small shop for curtain making and retailing in Lebanon which made it easier for Hamza and the rest of his family to seek refuge there.
In his hometown, Idlib, he was one of the top students in his class and had plenty of friends at school.
When Hamza arrived safely in Beirut, he was excited to carry on with his life – getting back to school, studying hard, and even making new friends. However, this wasn’t the reality of Hamza’s new life.
“We were outsiders in Beirut. I was forced to stop going to school for two years because I suddenly became a Syrian refugee and the schools refused to enroll me. I didn’t speak English because I only studied in Arabic back home which made it even harder for me to find a school that would accept me,” Hamza said.
Worldwide, UNHCR estimates that more than 100 million people have been forced to flee conflict, violence, human rights violations and persecution. By the end of 2021, approximately 36.5 million forcibly displaced people were children under 18 years of age. According to a recent UNHCR report, 68 per cent of refugees are enrolled in primary school. For secondary education, however, the rate is significantly lower at just 37 per cent.
During the two years that Hamza was forced to spend away from school, he worked at his father’s shop. He was daydreaming of going back to school where he belongs, and imagining worrying about exams and playing with his classmates. Later, Hamza’s father decided to move the whole family to a small village in Lebanon so that his children could continue their education there.
“The whole community there was different; so warm and welcoming. I couldn’t believe that I would finally be going back to school. After spending two years away from school, I was a different person; I felt that the whole experience made me older but much stronger. Looking back, I still don’t understand how a 12-year-old boy could be deprived of school. Education is a human right, not a privilege. No refugee child should be stopped from pursuing their dreams.”
After graduating from high school, Hamza chose to study Network Engineering and Telecommunication at university but as soon as he started the first year, his father passed away.
“I knew I only had two choices back then; I’d either leave university because I couldn’t afford to pay for my education anymore, or I had to return to work at my father’s shop to support my family. I really believed in myself; I’m passionate about my major and I’ve been working hard to become an engineer, so I wasn’t planning to give up on my dreams just yet – not after everything that I have been through.”
Fortunately, Hamza’s uncle saw his potential and paid for his university tuition. Later, Hamza heard about UNHCR’s DAFI Scholarship Programme from a friend and he managed to get a scholarship from the programme in his third year.
UNHCR’s DAFI Scholarship Programme is a joint initiative with the German government. It offers refugees and returnee students university scholarships in their country of asylum or home country. Globally, the programme has supported over 18,500 young refugees in 53 countries since 1992.
UNHCR aims to achieve a 15 per cent enrolment of young refugees in higher education by the year 2030 – the DAFI scholarship programme is one of the pillars of helping accomplish this. According to UNHCR Education Report, enrolment at tertiary level has risen to 6 per cent in 2020/21 compared to 3 per cent in 2018/19.
“The DAFI scholarship is giving me hope for a better future and it’s really pushing me to study hard to achieve my goals. After graduating, I’m planning to apply for a master’s degree so I can specialize in my field. I really want to make my family proud and find a decent job to be able to take care of and support my family.”
To find out more about UNHCR’s work supporting refugees’ education, please read UNHCR Education Report 2022