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Syrian Refugee Turns Down Scholarship Because of Sister

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A Syrian refugee, whose plaintive letter about the "unbearable hell" of life in a UN camp drew international attention to his plight, is likely to turn down a chance to go back to school because he can’t bear to leave his sister behind.

Ahmad Adnan Saied won a scholarship that would pull him out of the Zaatari refugee camp and allow him to pursue his studies at the German Jordanian University in Amman. But the 20-year-old told NBC News he felt both joy and sadness when he heard that he was awarded one of 40 sought-after United Nations DAFI scholarships. And ultimately, according to UNHCR worker Nasreddine Touaibai, Saied is set to turn it down because sister Asmaa can’t join him.

“Yes, my brother got the scholarship. Yes, I was sad that my brother got a scholarship,” Asmaa said in an interview this week in the camp, home to more than 80,000 refugees from war-torn Syria. “I’m also sad about students like me; here I have lot of my colleagues who are seriously suffering.”

The heartbreaking letter that drew attention was given to Touaibai on Oct. 12 as he walked through the camp. In it Saied wrote about how he and his 21-year-old sister were forced to abandon their English literature studies in Damascus two years ago. “My sister, who has spent three bitter successive years without study, sheds tears day by night. She is a pitiful state lying in the caravan,” he wrote. “Both of us have lost the most precious thing in our life, our study. We are helpless … no one supports us."

Saied, who didn’t disclose his name in the letter, hopes it will bring world attention to the thousands of other refugees who can’t pursue their education. “There is a tragedy in every house and our tragedy is we can’t finish our education,” he said.

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- Emmanuelle Saliba

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