Syrian refugees get chance to attend Turkish universities

News Stories, 28 December 2012

© UNHCR/B.Sokol
Sisters Tamara and Eilada fled their village in Syria but now have a chance to continue their studies thanks to a Turkish government decision to let qualified Syrian refugees attend universities from March.

ADIYAMAN REFUGEE CAMP, Turkey, Dec 27 (UNHCR) Syrian refugee sisters Tamara and Eilada may have lost their home and most of their possessions, but not their hope for an education and a productive future.

Tamara, 20, and Eilada, 18, fled Idlib in north Syria in September. Today, they live in a tent in a refugee camp in southern Turkey with their parents, two brothers and a sister. Despite the dramatic change in their young lives, Tamara and Eilada will still be able to pursue their university studies in Turkey.

They are among some 7,200 Syrian refugees at Adiyaman camp. Built and run by the Turkish government, it is one of 14 camps housing more than 141,000 Syrian refugees in seven provinces. UNHCR provides technical support to the government in assisting the refugees.

Under an extremely generous education program, the government will allow qualified Syrian refugees to attend Turkish universities beginning in the March semester. Ramazan Kurkud, head of education programs at Adiyaman said 70 B.A candidates and 10 M.A candidates from the camp have so far submitted applications to study at Turkish universities.

"Students can learn in seven universities across the country," Kurkud said. "They will start studying in March. The government has decided that all Syrian refugees will be waived from university fees."

For Tamara and Eilada, it is a dream come true.

Eilada had just finished high school and was preparing for university when the violence in Syria abruptly ended her studies. "It was early August, and I was in a minibus with my classmates going to Aleppo University to do the admission exam," Eilada said.

"Suddenly, we found ourselves in the middle of fire. There was shooting everywhere. I was screaming and crying. I did not know where to go or what to do. I was so scared I couldn't even stand up. I found shelter in a nearby house."

Tamara, a third-year architectural engineering student at Aleppo University, said she could no longer attend classes because of the deteriorating security in the city. She has already missed one semester of her studies.

After Tamara's and Eilada's home in Idlib was partially destroyed in September the family decided their best chance of safety was to reach the Syrian-Turkish border.

"When we left our house, we felt the sky was raining bullets," Tamara recalled. "We were moving from one shelter to another in order to protect ourselves.

"We left Idlib three months ago," she continued. "We spent 40 days on the Syrian side of the border with very little water and no electricity. The hygiene there was very poor. I got food poisoning and was sick for a week."

After their journey, Tamara and Eilada were relieved to reach Adiyaman refugee camp. "The Turkish government provided my family with two tents, mattresses, blankets and an electric heater," Eilada said. "We receive three hot meals a day. We owe the Turkish government so much for their support."

Although their lives were turned upside down, Tamara and Eilada regained a sense of normality when they learned they could apply to a Turkish university. Their goal of a university education is still within reach, their hope of a brighter future still alive.

"My dream is to study architectural engineering and to contribute in rebuilding my home country," Eilada said. "I am very happy to have the opportunity to study in peaceful conditions. I want to work for a while in Turkey before I go back home. I want to pay back some of the Turkish hospitality in hosting us."

*Names changed for protection reasons.

By Mohammed Abu Asaker in Adiyaman Camp, Gaziantep, Turkey

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Beyond the Border

In 2010, the Turkish border with Greece became the main entry point for people attempting by irregular methods to reach member states of the European Union, with over 132,000 arrivals. While some entered as migrants with the simple wish of finding a better life, a significant number fled violence or persecution in countries such as Afghanistan, Eritrea, Iraq and Somalia. The journey is perilous, with many reports of drowning when people board flimsy vessels and try to cross the Mediterranean Sea or the River Evros on the border between Greece and Turkey. The many deficiencies in the Greek asylum system are exacerbated by the pressure of tens of thousands of people awaiting asylum hearings. Reception facilities for new arrivals, including asylum-seekers, are woefully inadequate. Last year, UNHCR visited a number of overcrowded facilities where children, men and women were detained in cramped rooms with insufficient facilities. UNHCR is working with the Greek government to improve its asylum system and has called upon other European states to offer support.

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