Idlib’s students face difficult, dangerous route to exams

By Isaac J. Martín

 Beirut, Jun 21 (efe-epa).- Students from Syria’s last opposition-held provinces face dangerous journeys of up to 13 hours, filled with checkpoints and the ever-looming threat of violence, in order to sit exams, which begin Sunday.

A total of 251,701 students are registered to take the high school and university entrance exams between today and 14 July, Syria’s state-run SANA news agency reported on Sunday.

Of these, around 23,000 students in northwestern and northeastern Syria have to make a dangerous trip from opposition controlled territory to regime controlled areas in order to be able to sit the official exams. 

“In past years students crossing conflict lines from Idlib or Raqqa have told us of having to travel for 13 hours, getting stopped and questioned at checkpoints, switching cars multiple times and traveling in the back of pick-up trucks with barely enough food and water,” a United Nations source told Efe on Sunday on condition of anonymity.

In order to access the government-held territories from the opposition’s bastions in Idlib, people have to go through corridors established under an agreement between Russia, Syria’s ally, and Turkey, which supports the armed opposition.

These corridors were created for civilians wanting to flee the opposition’s last stronghold during an offensive the government carried out last year in Idlib and its surroundings.

The offensive was suspended by a ceasefire that came into force last March.

Naji Mustafa, the spokesperson for the National Front for Liberation, mainly comprised of Syrian factions that operate under the flag of the rebel Free Syrian Army, said that in Idlib students are being prevented from leaving for “many reasons”.

“There are many reasons, mainly for health and safety. All the crossings are closed due to the coronavirus pandemic that spreads through the areas of the regime,” Mustafa told Efe.

Mustafa said that they cannot trust the government troops, which he calls “criminal gangs,” because “they arrest the students and torture them.”

 “Especially for the girls, who are arrested and raped by Assad gangs,” he added.

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