Malala Yousafzai Speaks Out About the Importance of Educating Syrian Refugee Girls

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At yesterday’s Supporting Syria and the Region Conference in London, 18-year-old Malala Yousafzai spoke to world leaders encouraging them to pledge $1.4 billion this year to help educate Syrian refugee children, highlighting the fact that the 700,000 refugee children currently living in camps in Jordan, Lebanon, and other neighboring countries are out of school.  This is of particular importance for Syrian girls, who are often seen as financial burdens to their families, and so are married off at 12 or 13.

To hammer this point home, she attended the conference accompanied by 17-year-old Mazoon Almellehan, a Syrian refugee who currently lives in Northern England, but for three years lived in two different refugee camps in Jordan, and fought for girls’ education there. They first met in 2014 at the Zaatari refugee camp in Jordan, reuniting once Almellehan was resettled in the UK.

According to Buzzfeed, Yousafzai spoke at a press conference at the event about girls getting an education, not just for the sake of knowledge, but for safety:

[I]t’s not just learning, but in a way a protection for them, for their independence, for their own personality, to have that identity of being themselves. Because once they get married at such an early age, they do not get the opportunity to fulfill their dreams and go forward in their lives.

Meanwhile, Almellehan was on hand to talk about her first-hand experience in a refugee camp, and how she thinks access to education would be a huge help:

Many girls think that education is not important. They think, ‘if I get married, that will give me my future and protect me in my life.’ When I was in [the] camps, I saw many parents and girls think that early marriage is better than education. But in my opinion, education is the best protection for girls and is the best way to help us in our future, because if we want to bring peace to Syria, we must be educated. Without education we cannot do anything. Who will rebuild the country, who will bring peace? We need education because Syria needs us.

Yousafzai praised Jordan and Lebanon for their commitment to taking in refugees, despite being small countries with economic issues of their own. She then subtly criticized European nations for not doing everything they could be doing. She also brought up the excellent point that the sole focus should not be refugee placement, but that we should also make sure that we’re caring for refugees once in a host country.

She says:

If you welcome more refugees it’s going to help more, but also we should not forget supporting the refugees who are already in the host countries. On one hand we see there’s a debate about whether European countries should welcome Syrian refugees or not, but on the other hand people are forgetting about the people who are already refugees in the host countries – and that’s really disappointing because there’s lack of funding in terms of education and other facilities.

Bottom line: more countries need to be doing their part to take in these people so that the enormous burden isn’t placed on a tiny few, and wherever they are, we have to concern ourselves with more than simply providing refugees with food, clothes, and shelter. We shouldn’t simply be focusing on survival — we should also be helping them thrive.

If you’d like to help, the conference’s page on where you can donate is a great place to start.

(image via Statsministerens kontor/Flickr)

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Teresa Jusino
Teresa Jusino (she/her) is a native New Yorker and a proud Puerto Rican, Jewish, bisexual woman with ADHD. She's been writing professionally since 2010 and was a former TMS assistant editor from 2015-18. Now, she's back as a contributing writer. When not writing about pop culture, she's writing screenplays and is the creator of your future favorite genre show. Teresa lives in L.A. with her brilliant wife. Her other great loves include: Star Trek, The Last of Us, anything by Brian K. Vaughan, and her Level 5 android Paladin named Lal.