The Lost Generation

Photo: Mousharabiah, Perilous Journey III, 2021, Amal Freiha Khlat

Amber Khlat is a Lebanese-British high school student based in London. During July 2021 she interned at the Centre for Lebanese Studies and worked on the project “From Education to Employment? Young people’s trajectories in protracted displacement”. This blog presents her reflections on the education options for young people living in refugee camps in Lebanon.

“Why let our children go through the same thing and become like this?” Nour, a Syrian mother originally from Homs al Qsayr has lived in a Lebanese refugee camp with her family since 2013. Neither she, nor her husband were able to finish schooling themselves, with her husband barely passing through to 8th grade as his financial situation was challenging and he was forced to join his family business. This left the father very frustrated, as he believed that education is a foundational pillar to be able to build a decent life. Nour reached the first cycle of secondary education yet stopped when her husband asked for her hand in marriage. The two of them strive to ensure that their children have a bright future ahead of them and can access meaningful education in order not to endure the same arduous journey that they experienced. Nour and her husband are exploring all options in an attempt to break the barrier to education placed upon their children as they want them to “pursue their studies and excel”. 

Many children in Syria, Palestine and Lebanon are being robbed of their futures, with little hope, by growing up in countries ruled by toxic governments and corrupt elites. Education has become a privilege, with only 24% of refugees enrolled in secondary schools (UNCHR 2019). The Universal Declaration of Human Rights in Article 26 coined the infamous phrase that “everyone has a right to education”, however, this does not apply to Lebanon today, where money plays a powerful and discriminatory role, and access to education is reserved for the very few and privileged. Against this backdrop, the Centre for Lebanese Studies (CLS), in cooperation with the Centre for Development and Emergency Practice at Oxford Brookes University (CENDEP) is researching the numerous factors that shape young people’s individual trajectories from education to employment including the role of legal status, gender and socioeconomic status. As part of my internship, I was granted access to several the anonymised interviews conducted with young Syrian and Palestinian refugees and their families. In this blog, I reflect on these young people’s trajectories and my own education experiences. 

Lebanon is living through a chronic economic meltdown, being the world’s 3rd worst financial and political crisis since the mid-19th century. Currently, it hosts 192,000 Palestinian refugees displaced since the 1948 war, and more recently received an influx of 1.7 million Syrian refugees. Poor governance, continuous policy inaction, corruption, mismanagement, and wars have left the country and region in a very precarious position. With the Lebanese Lira losing 90% of its value since 2019, around 77% of households in Lebanon cannot afford to buy enough food. For the family in the interview introduced at the beginning of the blog, this meant not being able to buy bread for their Eid celebrations. 

Addressing the perennial problems affecting education attainment among young refugees is important and has come under the spotlight recently. Reading through the wide cross-section of refugee interviews conducted by the CLS, numerous themes come through that depict the education (or lack thereof) and the nature of their employment, if any. I found a particular interview with Syrian 14-year-old Ghada, to be especially pertinent. She marked me with her optimism and determined attitude towards reaching her ultimate hope of becoming a surgeon. The challenge stimulated her and encouraged her to be bold and ambitious. Despite the daily hardships and trauma that Ghada went through, including continuous disruptions which forced her to attend numerous schools before grade 7 (her current grade), she remains positive. She strives to obtain a meaningful education to bring back a sense of normality and routine and create her path to future success. Ghada attends a computer training programme 5 times a week where she learns basic Microsoft word, takes Arabic and English lessons as well as some life skills. She stated that she needs to be confident with her English language fluency to properly succeed as a surgeon, as “all medication is in English.” 

I can relate to her drive and sharp focus as I believe that we both place a huge value upon the clear fostering of a love of learning and intellectual curiosity which feeds our minds and helps us discover our life’s passions. At the same time, I admire that she is able to carry out all her hard work, despite missing the first-hand experiences a unifying and connected school atmosphere, created by teachers and students in order to preserve the sense of community, school spirit, common drive and togetherness at a regular school. For refugees, education is all that and more. It is the assured journey towards recovering a sense of aspiration, determination, purpose, honour and self-worth after all the pain they have endured. It is the single most fundamental tool towards a more successful future as a quality education provides an anchor for children to transform foundations into lifelong skills. 

Yet with all this said, education for refugees should not be a superficial, short-lived programme dependent upon unsustainable goals and principles as it will not provide for the essential fulfilment needed in order for young refugees to strive to rebuild their own lives and trajectories. Currently, the refugee education is not supporting all the necessary conditions to develop, progress and strengthen key skills to their maximum potential. Refugees’ childhood has been stripped of its innocence. The chance to dream has been corrupted because nightmares have clouded visions. Walking hand in hand with your friends and families down the street to buy ice cream has been transformed into running away from the comfort of your lives for safety. Their trajectory is no longer linear, their education is broken, and they have to attempt to navigate through the morally decayed world in which they now live. The creation of a sustainable education framework for refugees is therefore essential. 

This is why we must assemble and support these countries from the brink of collapse. There is a whole lost generation where children have suffered for a decade from disruption to their educational journey and the social fabric in these countries has been immeasurably damaged. These young refugees are the future of the world, and we must ensure that they are no longer denied the ability to acquire sufficient and fulfilling education.

The article reflects the views of the author and not of CLS.



Amber Khlat is a high school student interested in studying International Relations at university with an eye for working in the fields of human rights or refuge aid and development.