Learning The Language: Key To A New Life
The EU is working with partners – including UNHCR - to provide access to education to refugees. Education starts with learning a new language.
Story and photos by Berna Cetin
Imagine being in a room full of sad stories, yet at the same time, full of hopes, aspirations and big dreams. This is how it feels to be in a room with Syrian youngsters learning Turkish. 25 hours a week for 9 months will open new doors for these students who escaped the war in Syria and sought refuge in Turkey. Mastering Turkish will enable them to integrate into Turkish society, make friends, go to university and – one day – find a job.
As part of the Facility for Refugees in Turkey, the European Union supports projects focused on Turkish language learning and employment. The project beneficiaries aspire to achieve great things once graduating from these programs. Ammar, for example, dreams of being a civil engineer to help rebuild his country: "First my brothers came to Turkey. Then the rest of my siblings and my parents left Syria because we were too scared. Our home was torn down; our whole neighbourhood was torn down. I saw people die in front of me. I still remember how people were trying to reach up from under the ruins. I imagined the same thing happening to my family, it was unbearable." Ammar has started working in a bakery while also focusing on finishing high school, but he needs to learn Turkish to go to university. This is how he found out about the programme UNHCR is implementing with the Turkish government's Directorate for Turks Abroad and Related Communities (Yurtdışı Türkler ve Akraba Topluluklar Başkanlığı – YTB). The programme provides 9-month Turkish language courses and a monthly allowance to cover the students' expenses. In Istanbul, four centres provide these classes at Istanbul, Sabahattin Zaim, Aydın and Fatih Sultan Mehmet universities. The aim of this programme is to prepare the students for higher education. Apart from language training, the programme also includes computational subjects for supporting students with their university applications.
Ammar is not the only student with big dreams; there are others who want to study artificial intelligence, aeronautical engineering, English literature and many other subjects. They all want to start a new life; some do this through new job opportunities. Another UNHCR project supported by the EU and implemented together with Şişli Municipality trains Syrians who want to be employed in the health sector. Vesen is in her third week on the course; she is learning about the medical units in hospitals and how to prepare a CV. "I didn’t work in Syria but I want to serve this country." she says. Her life plans changed after she found out about this course. Having a daughter, she was planning to be a stay-at-home mum. "But I then I heard about this course and I thought I can work and learn new skills. I can work in a hospital or in a health center."
Education is a priority sector for the EU under the Facility for Refugees in Turkey, a mechanism set up in 2016 to provide rapid funding for refugees and their host communities in the country. Under the Facility a minimum of 185 new schools will be built through €405 million worth of projects with the World Bank and the German Bank for Reconstruction (KfW). A key focus is on integrating Syrian children into the Turkish education system; the EU is working closely with the Ministry of National Education to employ 5,600 Turkish language teachers to provide language training to more than 300,000 Syrian children. For young Syrians already at university, the EU supports scholarship programs via its partners UNHCR, DAAD and SPARK. Since 2016, the EU has supported 724 students with scholarships in 21 provinces. EU funds have also supported 1,765 students in preparatory courses to prepare them for their studies. For more information visit: