Despite legal accountability, state-funded scholarship students refuse “Syria return”
Enab Baladi – Muhammed Fansa
“I do not want to return to Syria despite my longing for it. The security and living conditions are difficult, especially in the last two years.”
Farah al-Eid uncovers the reasons that prevent her from returning to Syria, saying she signed a written commitment to return after obtaining the academic certificate for which she was sent by the Ministry of Higher Education.
“Syria now no longer has any room for human progress, practically or scientifically,” she added.
Al-Eid, originally from the southern city of Daraa, received a government scholarship to study for a doctorate in dentistry in Hungary in 2018.
She told Enab Baladi, “I received a scholarship to Hungary as a result of my academic excellence, as I came in fourth place within the Faculty of Dentistry at the University of Damascus.”
After completing her four-year studies and graduating from the university in Hungary, al-Eid decided to seek refuge in the Netherlands through irregular migration routes, where she was granted humanitarian asylum without the knowledge of her family, who expected her to return to work in Syria after the end of her studies.
Al-Eid justified her concealment of what she had done by fear of the reaction of her family, who rejected any idea of her not returning to Syria, where a “bright future” was supposed to await her, according to their expectations.
Al-Eid is one of many cases of Syrians sent by the Syrian regime’s government to study abroad who decided not to return despite the financial pledges and liabilities owed to them.
Study abroad cases are divided into scholarships at the expense of the host country granting the scholarships, in which they cover the costs of accommodation and exemption from tuition fees in their universities in full.
The number of scholarships annually reaches about 1,500, most of them from Russia and India, and the recipient is not obligated to any service or financial compensation to the regime government.
According to the Syrian Scientific Missions Law, the student who received a scholarship for scientific missions is required to serve state-run institutions for a period equivalent to twice the duration of the scholarship, that is, double the period he studied at the state’s expense, after obtaining the required certificate.
After his return, the university scholar must fulfill all the financial obligations incurred as a result of the scholarship, as the student receives a monthly salary that covers the costs of residence and study, while the academic delegation decision is not issued except after the candidate for delegation submits a guarantee in which he pledges with his sponsor to pay the expenses and wages incurred.
Students of the government-funded scholarships refrain from returning to Syria for several reasons, including those related to the deteriorating security and economic situation that the country has reached, evading financial obligations and submitting to serving government institutions for long years and with a salary that does not provide the conditions for a decent life.
Suha al-Tankaji, of Damascus, received a government scholarship to Russia in 2015 to study for a master’s degree in political science.
Al-Tankaji told Enab Baladi, “Before I got my scholarship, I was told to sign a binding pledge to return the amounts provided by the Syrian state for the duration of my studies in Russia.”
Sponsorship is accepted from the agricultural, industrial, or commercial chambers from the candidate for academic delegation or another person who sponsors him, so he presents a document proving that he is registered in one of the aforementioned chambers of the excellent, first or second degree.
Real estate guarantees are also accepted, with a condition related to the value of the property and that it is not mortgaged to any public or private entity, according to the Ministry of Higher Education website.
After completing her two-year study period, which ended in 2017, al-Tankaji decided to seek refuge in Europe through migration routes from Russia to Germany.
Regarding the reasons for her unwillingness to return to Syria, al-Tankaji said that the most important of them is the commitment to work with the state until the end of the imposed period of service, with the inability to travel to another country.
Regarding the financial situation that she will face if she returns, al-Tankaji says, “I will not return to work with a salary that does not exceed 300,000 pounds (About $21), which is the highest government salary in state universities,” adding that “I must also return all the monthly amounts provided to me by the government over two years, which amount to thousands of dollars.”
If she pays these amounts, she must undergo a national exam to amend her certificate before she is appointed.
Khitam al-Sharaa, a university scholarship student from the city of Daraa, was sent on a government academic mission to Britain at the end of 2011 to study for a doctorate in political science after graduating with a grade of 65%. Before that, she had obtained a university degree in English literature and then completed her studies in political science.
After arriving in Britain and completing her doctoral studies in her specialty, al-Sharaa decided not to return to Syria because she would have to pay $70,000 to the government once she arrived in Syria due to the monthly salaries she received during her years of study on the one hand, and because she did not see a good future for herself working in Syria on the other hand.
Two years after the end of her studies, al-Sharaa applied for asylum in Britain, as students have the right to apply for asylum two years after the end of their studies.
To avoid losing her assets in Syria, al-Sharaa sold her apartment for fear that it would be confiscated by the Syrian authorities due to her not returning to the country after completing her studies.
When she wants to see her family, al-Sharaa resorts to traveling to Lebanon or Jordan and meeting them there
3,229 Scholars have not returned
The Director of Legal Affairs at the Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research, Ahmed Ajeel, said in a statement to the government newspaper Al-Baath on October 16 that the state-funded university scholars who did not return to Syria “during the war period” reached 3,229, while the number of people who returned from scholarship missions and began their work from 2010 to date has reached 1,264 people, while there are currently 1,714 scholars’ cases under study.
Ajeel confirmed that the regime’s government continues to send delegates despite this interruption, in addition to the “very big” financial costs, to grant salaries and compensation to delegates in foreign currencies, as the highest wage received by a scholar reaches $906, and the lowest is $510.
The violating delegates can return and “solve their status” through several decrees issued, according to Ajeel, who indicated that the number of beneficiaries of these decrees reached 160 scholars.
Ajeel added that the number of students sent to Russia reached 251, and the return date of the first of them will be at the beginning of 2024, and they will be given the freedom to choose between being appointed as teaching or research staff.
The university scholar is subject to an administrative decision to terminate his scholarship in several cases, including if it is proven that the progress of his study “indicates the inability to achieve the intended purpose of the scholarship” or if he harms the reputation of his country or the country in which he is studying and violates its laws and regulations in the country of scholarship.
The scholarship is terminated if the scholar undertakes work outside the scope of his studies for the purpose of making a profit in addition to the scholarship salary without informing the executive committee for scholarships in the higher education ministry.
If the scholar changes the type of study, its country, or the institute in which he is studying without prior approval from the Executive Committee of Scholarships.
If the scholar leaves the country of delegation for a period of more than a month without prior approval from the cultural attaché, he is deprived of the right to return to Syria at the expense of the state, and upon his return, he will be required to double the wages and expenses paid to him during the delegation period.
The departure of university scholars is not limited to state-paid scholarships only, as many cases have also been recorded of students who obtained scholarships in different countries in an attempt to apply for asylum in Europe.
Last July, the Russian TASS agency reported that six Syrians disappeared from the capital, Moscow, from a group of 16 Syrians, after arriving at the beginning of the same month to participate in a language learning scholarship, noting that contact with them had been completely cut off and that their ages ranged between 24 and 45 years.
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