SIDON, Lebanon: An increase in Palestinian refugee students from Syria is likely to overwhelm schools in Sidon’s refugee camps of Ain al-Hilweh and Mieh Mieh, which are already struggling to accommodate more than 10,000 local Palestinian students.
Local and international relief organizations, with the cooperation of UNRWA, have been trying to secure classroom space for 2,700 Palestinian Syrian students, to be distributed among three schools in Ain al-Hilweh. Another 200 students, who are non-Palestinian refugees from Syria, are living in the camp and cannot be taken in by schools run by UNRWA.
Abu Ishaq Maqdah, head of the Palestinian Relief Unions in the Sidon camps, said this influx of students resulted from the arrival of 3,600 families of Syrian Palestinians, in addition to 330 Syrian families.
But these numbers are expected to increase in the coming months, said Musa Nimr, chairman of the staff at the regional UNRWA office. He expects a hike of between 1,200 and 1,400 Syrian refugee students in Sidon this year.
In total, there are 20 UNRWA schools in Sidon offering curriculums for Palestinians, and recently for Syrian Palestinian refugees. Some of the schools are currently working on organizing afternoon classes in addition to morning ones to accommodate all of the enrolled students.
Syrian students who were enrolled in Sidon’s schools last year followed a Syrian curriculum, and Nimr said he expected there would be four schools in and around Sidon specializing in the Syrian curriculum this year, with UNRWA offering books and stationery.
And while the schools in Ain al-Hilweh are considered to be in good condition, others are in serious need of maintenance.
Last week, Sidon MP Bahia Hariri held a meeting with principals from schools that accommodated large numbers of Syrian students last year. The meeting’s participants voiced several demands, such as keeping count of the number of Syrian students so that they can be better distributed across the different schools in the southern city.
So far, more than 500 Syrian students have applied to enroll in schools over the last three days. That number is expected to exceed 1,500 this year compared to around 800 last year.
The crisis in school capacity isn’t the only problem marking the 2013-14 academic year, as area schools have been busy tending to a host of security issues, in the wake of car bomb attacks in Beirut and Tripoli this summer.