Refugee children just want to go to school says BBC’s man in Lebanon

Jim Muir with refugee children in eastern Lebanon

After years reporting on the Middle East for the BBC, Jim Muir has seen more than his fair share of heartache.

From his base in Lebanon, he has covered conflict, political turmoil and now a refugee crisis on a scale that’s difficult to comprehend.

But Jim can still be moved by what he sees. Especially when it comes to the plight of the Syrian refugee children who have flooded over the border to escape the civil war.

He said: “I visited an informal settlement near the Syrian border where there are incredibly bright kids. It just breaks your heart to see them.

“You ask them what they miss most – and they say going to school.”

Jim is a supporter of  double-shift school plan to get the 435,000 Syrian refugee children in Lebanon back into school and learning, which has now been backed by the UK government.

He said: “It is a terrific idea. The thirst these children have for education is what strikes me.”

The reporter realises that, with more than one million Syrian refugees now in Lebanon, these youngsters face becoming a lost generation unless something is done.

He said: “In Beirut I met a family from Homs who have kids ranging from seven to 18. They have been on the road for two years and the children have had no education at all.”

Jim told how many children have no identity papers or birth certificates after their families fled from Syria.

He said: “A lot of the refugee children have been born here too. It’s problematic getting birth certificates for them so they end up stateless.

“I met a family of five whose parents were killed in a bombing. They have no papers – so how can they go back to Syria?

“This is an area the NGOs are focusing on. There could be as many as 100,000 in this category.”

Syrian refugees outside their temporary home in Bekaa Valley Picture: Russell Watkins/Department for International Development

Jim has reported on the conditions faced by the refugees who fled the fighting. He said many people outside the region wrongly assume the Syrian refugees in Lebanon are in official camps.

He explained: “Lebanon does not allow the construction of formal camps. There are literally hundreds of municipalities hosting refugee populations so it is much more difficult to administer.

“You see informal settlements ranging from shanty shacks in fields to groups and families taking over unfinished buildings. Some in the Bekaa Valley in the north of the country are very primitive – a wooden frame with plastic sheeting or advertising hoardings.”

Jim said the biggest problem he sees among the refugee children is boredom.

He said: “A lot of the time they are hanging around settlements with no school to go to. Boredom will just become a bigger problem as they get older and want to express themselves and don’t have school or work to go to.”

Some children have found jobs or are selling goods. In Beirut, as Jim reported recently, there is an army of refugee children selling flowers at night.

But Jim is hopeful that – whatever happens to their education – the Syrian refugee children will pull through.

He said: “Kids have a capacity to enjoy themselves – and be naughty – even in the worst circumstances.

“But most of all they just want to go to school.”

You can watch Jim Muir’s reports on the Middle East on the BBC, read his stories in the BBC website’s world news section or follow him on Twitter @MuirJim.