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December 11, 2014

Syrian child refugees work in the fields

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The advance of the Islamic State of Syria and the Levant throughout Syria and Iraq has displaced millions of people, leaving many children the sole breadwinners for their families.

Iman, 12, and Bushra, 14, left their town in northern Syria after it was destroyed in a battle with militants. They now live in Lebanon, where the sisters work in the potato fields to feed their family.  At the end of a long day of picking, they attend a local school for working children.

Iman hopes education will help her achieve her dream.

“When I grow up, I want to be a doctor, so I can treat every person who is ill and not take any money,” she said. “I would treat them for free.”

ISIL emerged as a dominant group during the ongoing the Syrian Civil War, which began in 2011 when groups rose up in opposition to the government of President Bashar al-Assad. In recent months, ISIL has taken control of approximately one-third of Syrian territory, escalating battles and forcing greater numbers of people from their homes.

Over three million people have left Syria since 2012, and a total of 51.2 million people worldwide have been forcibly displaced from their homes by conflict and war, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. One million of these are Syrian children who now live in refugee camps in Lebanon, Turkey and Jordan.

Many are the sole source of financial support for their families, often working for as little as $4 a day.

Bushra said she does not have high hopes for the future. “In the future, my friends will become teachers and doctors, but I won’t be able to be. That’s my fate,” she said.


Warm up questions
  1. In what part of the world are Lebanon, Syria, Turkey and Jordan located?
  2. What is a refugee?
  3. The United Nations reports that there are more than 51.2 million refugees world wide. That would be the equivalent of the population of New York City six times over. What challenges do refugees face?
Critical thinking questions
  1. What impact has ISIL had on this region of the Middle East?What specific challenges might child refugees face compared to adults? What are they missing out on?
  2. The United Nations Refugee Agency reports that “developing countries host over 86% of the world’s refugees”. Why do you think this is? How can more wealthy countries provide support?
  3. The U.N. estimates there are almost 300,000 Syrian refugee children living in Lebanon today not currently enrolled in school, having to work instead to support their families. Worldwide, UNESCO believes 58 million children are currently not in school.  Iman and her sister are lucky to receive a few hours education after work.
    • Do you think Iman’s dream of becoming a doctor is possible? Why or why not? What would need to happen around her to allow her to pursue a medical education?
    • What are some global consequences of not educating millions of children?
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