Human Rights Activist and Nobel Laureate Malala Yousafzai has marked her 18th birthday with a renewed commitment to refugees and education by inaugurating a school for more than 200 Syrian girls living in refugee camps in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley.
Opening The Malala Yousafzai All-Girls School on Sunday (July 12), she said: “I am honoured to mark my 18th birthday with the brave and inspiring girls of Syria. I am here on behalf of the 28 million children who are kept from the classroom because of armed conflict. Their courage and dedication to continue their schooling in difficult conditions inspires people around the world and it is our duty to stand by them.”
The UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres welcomed the initiative.
“We are really heartened by Malala’s ardent support for the education of refugee girls whose aspirations have already been so cruelly cut short by war. These children are the future of Syria; we must not jeopardise that by denying them the basic right to education while they are in exile,” he said.
Malala, who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2014, was attacked in her native Pakistan in 2012 because of her campaign for girls’ rights and education. The new school will offer education and skills training to girl refugees aged 14 to 18.
“Whenever I ask a Syrian refugee child what they would most like to do, the overwhelming response is ‘I want to go to school.’,” Guterres added. “In Malala, we could not have a better advocate for refugee education and are very grateful for her solidarity and support.”
Yousafzai added that she believed world leaders were failing Syria’s children.
“On this day, I have a message for the leaders of this country, this region and the world: ‘you are failing the Syrian people, especially Syria’s children’. This is a heart-breaking tragedy — the world’s worst refugee crisis in decades.”
Lebanon is hosting nearly 1.2 million registered Syrian refugees, though the total number in the country may be even higher.
The influx has placed strains on Lebanon, which has just four million citizens.
UNHCR itself has been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize on two occasions, the last time in 1981.