Syria crisis: We have a right to work and education

Iman Al-Sin (left) and two fellow women leaders on the Women Leadership Council

Iman Al-Sin, a Syrian refugee, reflects on refugees’ lack of the right to work – and the link this has to child marriage.

I grew up in rural Damascus, in Syria, but I left because of the war. The country wasn’t safe. My husband was arrested and released more than once.

Schools were being targeted and it was not safe to send my three children anymore. Because of the danger, schools were moved to basements and, even then, these buildings were bombed.

My daughter, Nour, did not go to school for an entire year.

So we fled the country at the end of 2013. First we went to Lebanon for six months, then we moved to Jordan, where we have been living near the capital Amman, for the past five years.

I’d like to use World Refugee Day as an opportunity to reflect on refugee rights, particularly the right to study and work.

Refugees in Jordan are lacking these rights – and I’m sure this is the case for many refugees around the world.

As a refugee I have a good insight into the issue. I also work closely with refugee families as part of the Women Leadership Council, which is run by CARE.

A significant issue facing refugees is employment. Syrian workers are some of the worst paid in Jordan, and the cost of living here high.

For men, it is difficult to obtain a work permit to enable them to find legal work. In many cases, the employer will decide it’s easier not to employ a Syrian person. Instead they opt for workers of other nationalities, who can easily obtain a permit.

It’s also common for a man not to let his wife work, despite their financial need, because of customs and traditions.

For me and my family, my husband’s work situation was so dire, that he has considered going back to Syria, despite the dangers of war and his arrests when we lived in the country. That’s how much we struggled to afford life in Jordan.

As part of my work with the Women’s Leadership Council I raise awareness of the dangers of early marriage. This is an issue very close to my heart. I got married at 16 and had Nour very quickly after.

I was too young to be a mother. When Nour would cry, I would cry too – I was just a child.

So early marriage isn’t an option in our house. However, it is an issue for many of the Syrian families I work with.

I believe that early marriage is exacerbated by families not having enough money to live in Jordan.  I know a man who arranged for his 11-year-old daughter to get married, because he has seven children he was struggling to feed.

Half of the girls in my 14-year-old’s class are engaged to be married, whilst my Nour still cries when she wants a bag of crisps – how could she get married?

There are also families who see early marriage as a way of protecting their daughters, because they’ll have a man to look after them. Part of my work is around challenging this assumption, particularly amongst the fathers. Instead they need to focus on making their daughter strong enough to look after herself.

I also work as a self-defence trainer as part of the She Fighter project. Self-defence is important to protect women and girls from awful threats, such as robbery or sexual violence, but it’s also good for their self-esteem.

Just because I am a woman, it does not mean that I do not defend myself. I do not have to wait for a man to defend me – this gives me self-confidence.

I try to spread the idea about the importance of self-defence among my friends and family, especially among my children. I am now training my son, Firas, he’s a sweet boy, and I want to build his self-confidence, while Nour is very self-confident.

In our home, we really value education. After arriving in Jordan I was able to quickly register Nour for the academic year and she resumed going to school – which was a relief.

Although education is another area where refugees can be held back. For instance, the cost of transport to and from school is high.

There are days that I cannot afford to give my children money to buy lunch at school, which is heart-breaking.

The cost of further education and university is prohibitively expensive – my daughter won’t be able to attend university. A Syrian here can barely make ends meet.

My message this World Refugee Day is that Syrian refugees must have rights like all other human beings. The right to education and the right to work are some of the basic rights that I would like to call for on behalf of other Syrian refugees.

Just because we are refugees, it does not mean we should have less rights – we deserve to have every human right.

Make a regular donation and help CARE be there to help refugees like Iman, Nour and Firas:

Donate now

CARE's picture

News and stories are provided by CARE staff working to support our emergency responses and long-term development programmes.