Being able to walk down the street is a luxury for Syrian student, Amer Labania.
That hated lecture, the countless essays, a robe at graduation and graduating at all – they’re all privileges to Amer.
“My father tells me that you have to be careful of snipers when you walk in the street in Syria. The country is not safe anymore,” Amer says of the dangerous state that his Syrian home is in.
“My educational funding was frozen and we can’t get the money from Syria because family members have died and you don’t expect anyone to work because this is a war.”
Ku student Amer told The River how his family, living in Aleppo, are forced to live like mice in a cage. Talking to the 33-year-old father of two, it is apparent that the simplest privileges in the UK are, to Amer, the only light in an otherwise dark world.
Amer received a scholarship from Aleppo University, allowing him to come to Kingston in 2009 to study Syrian tax reform. Since then, a bloody civil war has separated him from his family and he faces the choice of a limited life alone in the UK or likely death in Syria.
Dubbed a traitor
Serving in the National Military is mandatory and avoiding this duty has put him on a blacklist for those dubbed traitors by Syrian president Bashar al-Assad’s totalitarian government.
“They’re collecting soldiers at the airports, and I’m a marked man, so they would have to arrest me.”
Almost two years of violence and thousands of lives lost erases any foreseeable hope for Syrian students in the UK, their tuition fee debts are increasing as lines of support are cut but Amer considers himself lucky.
“Kingston secured an extension for my degree, allowing me to stay which I’m very grateful for. I’m lucky to have come to the UK when I did because if I had been there now I would be killed for refusing to be militant.”
“I’ve lost feeling as a man, as a husband and a father.”
Amer can’t do anything to save his family, only last month much of Aleppo University was laid to ruins, terrifyingly close to Amer’s daughter’s school.
“I have to check Facebook constantly because every time there’s an attack I have to know if it has or hasn’t affected my family’s area.”
Reading about taxation details of a country where tax is the last thing on its citizens’ minds, has a torturous effect on Amer. The difficulty of keeping his mind focused on researching the homeland that has put him in a precarious limbo plagues him daily, and his words he has “lost feeling as a man, as a husband and a father”.
Demanding his return to Syria
Amer’s troubles don’t stop there; Syria’s Ministry of Education rejected his Kingston-granted PhD and are demanding that he returns to Aleppo.
The UK Government concession that Syrian students should be allowed to stay longer in the country to avoid threatening circumstances expires on March 15. So, what’s next for the young and exiled?
KU Vice-Chancellor Julius Weinberg told The River: “We deal with cases of student hardship individually and try to support the student to complete their studies. The Syrian students at KU will be supported in the same way that we help students suffering from the impact of war, civil dislocation, or natural disasters from any of the many countries represented at Kingston.”
Amer’s sentiment is less confident: “The future is very blurred and the picture is very bleak – We have to go back at a certain point, which we cannot say when will be, we cannot say what will happen.”