Syria

The main interests of young people in Syria are the following: how to get the maximum and most favourable following under- or post-graduated studies; so he/she must work hard to fulfil the strict scientific conditions; must work hard to gain the money necessary for the studies (taking into consideration that costs are very low compared with other and surrounding countries); how to find a suitable job after spending years in study, where and for how much (taking into account that many young people are graduated and waiting in the queue for a job); how to fulfil traditional and life requests to get married in due time. The assistance that young people get: families provide very warm protection for their members in many ways, for example there no problem of having to go to the street because there is no housing possibility, no worry of dieting from skipping meals because you have no possibility to buy food, there will always be somebody who listens to you when you are in depression or when you have any problem; The government does great work in giving possibilities to young people to improve themselves and opportunities to find jobs, to study and to follow the technological revolution in the word. Our young people live as others since a long time in very hard international conditions pressing our country economically and politically, and suffering from unfair stupid attacks on our nation, culture, traditions, history and religions.

We are Palestinian refugees living in Syria. We have been living in camps since 1948. Our population consists of 60% under 20 years of age, so we are a young generation.

The economic situation is not good and we have a lot of poor people. However, the social situation is good as there are ample social relationships which enable us to live in a safe environment.

As there is still no legislation that permits social and political work in Syria, youth work is very hard, full of obstacles. We are trying to arrange some peaceful civil activities that would not cause harm to our youth because of the emergency case and exceptional law. This situation has been dominating in Syria for more than 40 years now. So the youth situation is doing poorly in any kind of activity. And young people have gone far from the world new challenges and new movement. The bad economic situation pushes young people to migrate, especially the well-educated of them. There are no political directions or interests for most of our youth. Civil kind of work is still unclear and somehow mystic.

Syrian youth form a wide part of Syrian society. It is a young community full of youths who need to enhance their knowledge in various fields such as the environment, health, training courses, informatics and science, communication, civil defence, etc.

Syrian youth form a big section in the community. They play an important role in the fields of life in Syria They express themselves and their cases freely and in a democratic atmosphere. They like to share their knowledge, culture, and traditions with other young people from different countries.

They represent the major part in society, as well as they play a major role in improving and developing most aspects of life. They are active, talented, well-knowledgeable and educated.

They compose the majority of Syrian society. They like to represent themselves in all aspects, as well as they can be decision-makers through their representatives in many areas.

They play an important role in the Syrian community.

People in Syria are very beautiful and funny, but the government closed everything. Economy is very bad, so Syrian youth do not find any work and always think of travelling outside Syria. Syrian students are very good in culture, and all people care about politics and always talk about it. All people speak one Language, Arabic. Youth hit Israeli people and the US government but you can easily gain friendship from Syria.

Our youths are divided into two main sectors: educated youths, most of whom have completed their academic studies and are interested in cultural and political activities, and they are the minority of our society; and youths who left studying and joined some jobs without being concerned with anything related to the community or cultural and political activities. These two main sectors include a wide range of youth who have many difficulties in life such as sexual discrimination, unemployment, stopping their studies due to lack of money, studying and working at the same time, the inactive and limited existence of youth organisations in Syria, low job salaries, marrying difficulties because of the bad financial situation, separation of youth from political life, lack of consciousness and education between Arab youth in general, and the wide spread of an Islamic trend among youths. There is a problem of youth who were born in Syria, or were born from a Syrian mother and a foreign father, without having Syrian nationality.

Syria is a small country, but it is so rich. It has 36 faiths, 8 nationalities and 8 languages. So you can see a mix of cultures and mores between youth, but poverty and distance make some differences of priority in life, because of the cost of living. You can see all youths working to study and build a good future depending on their knowledge. In the big cities like Damascus and Aleppo youth work for money, and only for money. In Eastern Syria, youths work in clans, under the name of the family, where the father is the leader of all the family, and leaving no opinion for the young. The Syrian government does not give recognition to any group like youth, environmental, development, or political organisation. So you cannot see youth organisations or groups working very well, and all groups work like volunteers, except for some groups established by the government and the governing party.

You are quite familiar with the situation in Syria and we are waiting for the Change.

Palestinian young people in Syria have learnt through their circumstances that education is the key to their personal/community development. The majority of them use UNRWA and Syrian educational establishments to enable themselves to be able to gain and contribute to their society. Of course there are also challenges around. Political and economic instability, refugees living far from their home country, lack of educational infrastructure and difficulties in getting into the universities/training centres abroad, have slowed down the learning/contributing process. Palestinian young people are also trying to benefit from Information Communication Technology to communicate with the rest of the world to produce and consume knowledge. They have benefited from local and regional youth programmes such as the Euro-Med Platform. Unfortunately such programmes are quite new in countries like Syria and capacity building programmes and awareness raising activities are required to secure participation and contribution of young people from all walks of life. Youth enthusiasm and energy are the keys to overcome difficulties, and the latest improvements have encouraged young people and their leaders to move forward.

Syrian and Palestinian young refugees living in Syria think of Arab-Israeli conflicts, occupation of their countries (most of Palestine and Golan Heights of Syria), Arab identity, Islamic fundamentalism, American war on terror and democracy project in the region, political and economic development, reform in education system, human rights, poverty, unemployment, marriage, housing and supporting of their parents in the absence of state social security. There are also youth who are interested in Rotana music TV channel; they would like to spend their time in café and bars in the upper class neighborhoods of the capital Damascus or big cities. These groups are not so much bothered with the causes of political and economic developments in Syria. They very much want the result and would like to have a normal youth life. Having lived in Syria for almost two years, I noticed that the majority of youth including those living in the rural area, would like to have a job, being able to marry and find a place to live, a house. This might be too simple but I believe these three are what most youth want first. Of course there will be more demands coming after the realisation of these needs. The question for the government and leaders is how they can help the young people to realize their needs. What are the priorities? Political reforms, economic development, both together? How can they deliver reform and keep the country stable? What are the outside forces that might influence internal development and how can they secure Syria from regional troubles?

Syria has a very young population. In 2004 the population of Syria was of 17,980,000 inhabitants, of which youth (age group 15-25) constitutes about 25%. Moreover, the relatively high rate of population growth (24.5 per 1000) may also lead to an increase in the ratio of the young population to the total population. Education has always been a great concern to the government of the Syrian Republic. To that end Syria has integrated the primary and preparatory education into one educational level, called ‘˜the Basic Education Stage’. It also worked on making education available to all by making education compulsory and free. The Ministry of Health, in cooperation with WHO, launched the ‘˜Adolescent Health Programme’ since 2002, targeting the age group 10-19. This Programme aims at promoting adolescents’ health standards through health education on health-related issues in general and on reproductive health in particular. As for youth and AIDS/HIV, the Ministry of Health, has adopted the National Programme for AIDS Control, where it set the measures to prevent infection by HIV and STDs. The relevant statistics revealed that the number of patients with HIV/AIDS reached 272 in 2002, 170 Syrian citizens and 102 Foreigners. The unemployment ratio, which amounts for 12%, is considered relatively high. This lead the Syrian government to adopt a programme on combating unemployment through the establishment of a governmental body called The Agency for Combating Unemployment. Moreover, this Agency adopted three programmes targeting the age group 20-50 from which youth may benefit. In addition to these three programmes, the Agency adopted the Youth Programme working on the training of graduates in vocational schools. Regarding youth and civil work, many youth projects were established, such as BIDAYA, whose mission is to work with young people, providing access to financial support for those with a viable business proposal but who are unable to find help elsewhere. Another youth programme that was established is The Syrian Young Entrepreneurs Association (SYEA). This was the brainchild of enthusiastic and dedicated young business people who felt that they had to make a contribution to the enhancement of the country’s business community. The Syrian Commission for Family Affairs (SCFA) formulated the Youth National Committee. Its members are representatives from all the ministries and state institutions working on youth-related issues, in addition to youth NGOs and other youth programmes. Beside its task of developing a strategy, SCFA acts as an essential partner in the Youth Project. In general, SCFA, when performing its tasks, takes into consideration the issues related to gender, people with special needs, and refugees.

Youth in Syria: Challenges beyond their dreams. “My country is never going to give me a chance, not even a minor one. That is why I am going to emigrate to some other country that secures a good chance for me. Here I cannot even dream of a house to live in. Even if I stayed here, I would waste two years of my life in the military service, not to serve my country and learn military exercises, but to give money to those big influential military officers to increase their properties and lands” said Ahmad full of pain. The problems of youth in Syria are big and numerous, but their dreams are even bigger and more numerous. The main obstacle that youth face in Syria is the 12th year of school, which is the major dividing line in life, as it is extremely difficult to get appropriate marks that are needed for admission to university. We notice that students, beginning in their 10th year in school, become concerned about the 12th year, due to the hopes that their parents and society have for them, and due to the notion that the 12th year will decide their entire future and their level of success. The problem is that curricula depend on how much information a student memorizes, not on how good they are in one subject or another. Furthermore, except for one subject, computer information, the practical side of learning is nearly zero. Many other problems face youth during their prime age. Among the most important barriers they face are: Economic Barriers: imposed by the government, which is the biggest barrier, as the government dedicates only a very minor part of the budget for youth development, while dedicating more than 60% of the budget for the military; Legal Barriers: also imposed by the government, as the government does not allow any non-governmental organisation to operate, and does not give license to any private youth development institution; Isolation Barriers: imposed by the government. Syria has been living in isolation for years, which has prevented youth from communicating with other countries. In so doing, a state of inactivity has been created in Syria that leads to economic and political paralysis; Bureaucracy and Corruption Barriers: affect mostly emigrants who return to their country and try to make small businesses, but after some time they leave the country fleeing corruption; Religious Barriers: imposed by the majority of conservatives in our society, which cause youngsters to suppress most of their creativity. It is really frustrating that most of the good qualified people decide to emigrate, leaving their country as they become desperate, after spending some time in Syria trying to be beneficial for their country. Consequently the country loses a great percentage of qualified youth. Sally is a 26 old Syrian emigrant who returned to her country after spending 11 years abroad full of excitement, hoping to establish a small business and to continue her life in her country. But she was disappointed: “I returned here with my husband to establish a business and live here, but I was really disappointed that it took me about one year and a half to process the application of my project in the different governmental departments, and I spent a lot of money, paying bribes, something you cannot do without in any governmental department here. And now, after I have wasted a lot of time, money and efforts I have decided to leave Syria soon.” It is really painful when you face all these problems, knowing that solutions are clear and possible. What we really need to do as a first step is to admit the bad situation that youngsters go through and the many difficulties they face every day of their lives. Secondly, we have to strengthen the economic status in the country, as it is a very crucial initial step to achieve the revival of society. And here is a set of suggested solutions: Dedicate the larger percentage of the governmental budget to education, and give major care to youth; Allow non-governmental organizations and private youth development institutions to operate and to be effective in youth development; Activate the role of civil society that has been absent for decades now, and this solution requires a brave step by the government; Separate religion from the personal status law in Syria that is based totally on religious laws; Cancel obligatory military service, making it optional, or at least reducing the period of military service to 6 months instead of two years; Fight bureaucracy and corruption, and create a qualified independent monitoring institution, especially on military, police and security officers who have absolute power and unlimited influence in the country; Make good investment laws, and encourage investments in Syria, in order to increase job opportunities and improve the economic status; Place the right man in the right position, because one’s success in finding a job in the governmental sector depends on how much patronage and favouritism one has, not on the qualifications one has; Create a youth parliament, whose decisions and claims must be passed to the Parliament to be voted on; Openness to other countries. Not only president to president, but we need to establish a serious dialogue by means of creating non-governmental civil institutions. Promoting a culture of peace instead of a culture of war is one of the key factors to relieve the stress on youth in Syria, as the condition of war and emergency law that is still effective today cause the government to spend most of the budget on the military. The Israeli government, and the US government who have been supporting this entity financially and militarily, are both responsible for promoting the culture of war, hatred and fundamentalism in the region. Also, they are two of the main sources of creating frustration and depression in the youth in this region. Some people think that the role of youth is unimportant, therefore we do not have to give their issues a priority. Actually, their role is unimportant while they are marginalized, but when you give them priority, the nation will be young and strong. Youth are the engine of progress and advancement.

Our work and the work of other organisations is limited to the extreme. The governmental organisations do not work as much as they are supposed to. For example I work with Red Crescent. Although there is a State Minister for Red Crescent Affairs (i.e. huge funds and staff) the work done annually can be made by few active youth. We cannot work on real issues like HIV/AIDS, situations in impoverished areas or in prisons. However, there are signs that the young people in Syria still know their important and vital role after years of totalitarian regime. For example there were demonstrations and clashes with security forces inside the university campus in the northern city of Aleppo after the government made an unfair decision regarding engineering graduates. Although 12 were arrested (one of them was in the Union, now in Germany), this treatment was better than what happened in previous events. We, the Syrian people, were promised that things will become better soon. To build a new and better world, we must not just describe it. We must work and work to see the light at the end of the tunnel because even the longest has an end.