Exactly eight years ago, in the early morning of 1 March, a military plane on humanitarian service arrived in Lisbon, with the first group of Syrian students who were welcomed in Portugal, thanks to an unprecedented initiative well ahead of its time that was set in motion by the former President, the late Jorge Sampaio. Since then, many other groups of our colleagues have been accepted into Portuguese universities and polytechnical colleges.
Today, in 2022, many of us have already completed our studies, while others are still finishing. Of those who have graduated in Portugal, the vast majority are already working, and we are all well integrated into Portuguese society. There are already Portuguese-Syrian families and some of us are now Portuguese citizens.
Now that the war has also broken out at the gates of Europe, we, the Syrian students who Portugal received during the emergency scholarship program promoted by former President Jorge Sampaio, for whose vision, courage and strong sense of solidarity we will be eternally grateful, want to testify to the huge impact this initiative had on our lives.
The initiative to assist Syrian students was literally the only lifeline we had. It kept us alive and enabled us to continue to have reasons for hope in the future. It encouraged our families who were left behind and allowed us to believe that, despite the tragedy of war, there was still a ray of light at the end of the tunnel.
We would like to take this opportunity to thank all those here in Portugal, but also in the rest of the world, who joined this initiative by supporting us in our academic journey and helping us to recover from the blows that our lives sustained with the outbreak of violence in Syria, blows that we have felt so often over the years and that we continue to feel, being, as we are, at the mercy of the news reaching us from our homeland that is far from being at peace. But the truth for all of us is that the scholarship we received was truly a turning point in our lives. We are alive and well thanks to this unique opportunity that allowed us to continue our education.
In times of war, education offers young people a unique place of refuge. Education protects us, and is a true safe haven. From our experience, we also know that emergencies cannot wait. Every day, week, month, or year that goes by without anything happening, without any prospect of rescue, is like taking an axe to our heads, creating an ever-deeper abyss, while we stand vulnerable on the edge of a precipice. The worry is worst at night, when despair is even greater, and erodes people’s confidence, destroys their soul strength, and slowly kills the force of their convictions, values, and principles.
Therefore, we have come to appeal to Portugal, to our Platform, created by former President Jorge Sampaio, and to all those who support it to launch without delay a program of emergency scholarships for Ukrainian students or those who attended universities in Ukraine, because we know that this country was highly sought after by international students from poorer countries or even countries in conflict where they found the possibility of continuing their higher education. We are completely willing to collaborate, we want to do for them what others have done for us. We will serve as antennas for the Platform in the places where we live or in the schools we attend to mobilize our colleagues, teachers and everyone who wants to collaborate. From now on – both literally and in spirit - we will contribute as far as we can to the YES FUND that the Platform had already announced, but whose launch was postponed due to the COVID pandemic.
YES FUND stands for Youth Solidarity Fund (www.globalplatformforsyrianstudents.org) and is based on a simple principle: if every student, teacher, or member of the academic community contributes one euro annually — there are more than 240 million students worldwide — this amount will be immediately available for these emergency scholarship programs whenever there is a crisis. This initiative rightly intends to be global, but it has to start somewhere. And, therefore, it will be here in Portugal with the impetus and strong support that the YES FUND will start. We want other colleagues who have also gone through or are going through these situations of violence and humanitarian emergencies to have the same opportunity that we had. Therefore, we also want to appeal to our colleagues, teachers, scientists, researchers, and friends to mobilize and summon all your networks so that YES FUND can quickly spread to the whole of society here in Portugal, but also to other countries.
Like in 2014, when the first group of Syrian students was welcomed in Portugal, we now want to welcome, all together, as soon as possible the first group of Ukrainian students or students who were studying there and who now have nowhere to return. The second semester of this academic year is starting; it's the right time to arrive. Together, united and determined, we will know how to ignite the flame of hope in their broken hearts. We will be able to show that the academic community knows how to say “present” and respond to humanitarian emergencies in the most natural and proper way: by opening the doors of knowledge, science and awareness and welcoming students driven out by war and looking for a safe haven. Colleagues and friends, emergencies do not wait.
Let's do it!
Alaa K, Alaa J., Amirah, Anas, Arwa, Azzam, Bader, Bushra, Ezaldeen, Katia, Kais, Ghadir, Hassan, Helen, Ibraheem, Maher, Mahmoud, Mohammad, Ouwais, Rahaf, Rana, Rand, Reem, Rima, Salma, Shadi, Sham, Tala, Tarek S., Walaa W., Walaa K., among many other Syrian Scholarship holders and alumni from the Global Platform for Higher Education in Emergencies (Former Global Platform for Syrian Students).