In Brussels, your neighbor is probably a migrant —someone who has left where they were born and has resettled elsewhere—as is the case in most large cities. I am a migrant, I’ve only been here since January for my studies. Every one of my Brussels colleagues at SB OverSeas is a migrant, as well as nearly all my university mates– with the rare exceptions of one or two students from Brussels, but chances are they have been migrants once or twice in their life as well.
But not all migrants are the same. We’re each constrained by borders, visas and other regulations set by the country that we choose to resettle in. Some of us in a less strict manner than others. We all move for different reasons, some more severe than others—but at the end of the day all migrants want (and I include myself in this) is a good life and opportunities for a good future.
At SB OverSeas, we work to better the lives of those who move because they had no other choice, and who have strict regulations placed on them because of it—refugees and asylum seekers in Belgium and Lebanon.
In both those countries, the future of children and young refugees in particular is grounded in their ability to access education.
In the case of Belgium, a young refugee who has arrived alone to the country has to prove his or her age, that he or she is under the age of 18 to be given temporary protection and access to education (primarily language learning) until they turn 18. About 60 percent of the young refugees in Belgium are 16 or 17 years old, meaning that they will be sheltered and be guaranteed education for only one or two years, until they turn 18. With SB Espoir, we work with three of the accommodation sites for these primarily (only 14% are girls) teenage boys, where we work with FEDASIL and the Red Cross to do activities and skills-building workshop, exposing them to potentially new concepts and the wider Brussels community.
Here’s the paradox- this group is considered of the most protected of the asylum-seekers in Belgium because of the EU-wide imperative to protect children, but it all comes to a halt on their 18th birthday. This is why the SB Espoir project works to create connections and build a network for the youth in Brussels, a kind of investment in their future that’s beyond formal education.
In Lebanon, resource constraints has limited placements of formal education for Syrian refugee children; SB OverSeas’ non-formal catch up schools in Arsal, Beirut and Saida serve as one of the only alternatives for children who don’t speak English or French yet, are older than 14 years or just haven’t been able to get into the public schools. A recent report by SB OverSeas’ team in Lebanon stated:
“Although the number of enrollments and spaces in classrooms have increased every year of the crisis in Syria, still a significant number of parents find themselves obliged to say, ‘our children are growing up without an education.’ An estimated 36 percent of those aged 6 to 14 remain out of school, meaning they do not access to formal education.”
As a self-identified nerd and lover of school, it breaks my heart to think about the “lost generation” of children and young people who suffered conflict in their home, have fled to find protection, but are still unable to go back to school. It’s again a paradox: I (and many others) migrate to go to school, but many migrant and because they have migrated they cannot.
Read the full report from SB OverSeas on access to education for Syrian refugee children in Lebanon.