In 2017, more than 2000 refugees stepped foot in the Netherlands. Among them was 22-year-old Elias Albeirakdar, a fifth-year medicine student, who with only a year left to finish his studies, faced the difficult situation of unexpectedly fleeing his home in Syria.
“I had my safety to be concerned about, it was a choice between the known and the unknown,” recalls Elias.Elias was left in Syria with his mother while his brother took a dangerous sea route from Syria to Turkey. He then departed for Greece on foot before taking many trains to finally make it to the Netherlands. After his arrival, Elias’s brother requested asylum and family reunion for Elias and his mother. While he is not sure how the request was granted so immediately, Elias thinks that his homosexuality may have had played a part.
Like many refugee students, Elias hoped to continue his education and attempted to apply for a master’s program at Maastricht University. After finishing all his Dutch language requirements in a period of only 6 months, and with a hopeful heart, Elias sent in his grades list from Syria. “My five years of medicine were evaluated to be almost three years. This meant that in their eyes I didn’t finish requirements of a bachelor program Elias was then suggested to apply for a bachelor’s program but still told to not keep any hopes as he might have to repeat the hefty process only to be rejected again. “The idea of repeating medicine from the start didn’t appeal to me and I knew at this point that it was time for me to look for other options.”With an eager mind, Elias took the decision to go for another program in the field of health sciences.
After much insisting, struggle, and visits to study advisors, the solution was to provide a table of contents and exams from his high school. “I was three days away from the deadline, so I had to find a translator who could translate scientific concepts. Elias explains the entire process as a maze, not knowing where to take the next step. He now volunteers at the asylum seekers center in Roermond, helping his old case manager and other refugees navigate the Dutch education system. Since he had to take on the challenges on his own, Elias feels that it is his duty to help others make informed decisions. Most universities in Europe hold a negative misconception about the Syrian education system, considering it much lower even while the curriculum contents in both countries are the same, if not more slightly more difficult. However, Elias acknowledges that universities have to adhere to literal interpretations of the government’s admissions criteria. Although he does think that in the case of the great influx of refugee students wishing to continue their educations in the Netherlands, the admissions process should be re-evaluated, as their past achievements are crucial at this stage.
Elias is currently helping young students from various fields; hotel management, aviation, and law, all with one goal: to become integrated, responsible and effective members of the community. According to Elias, the most common misconception about refugees is that they want to keep living off of the money they receive from the Dutch government and offer no work in return. “A lot of the people I know risked their lives and the lives of their children to ensure long-term safety. They are looking to be normal, positive contributors to society,” he assures. While Elias does not like being called a refugee, as he believes that his identity can sometimes be restricted to just that, he has both international and Dutch friends in Maastricht, and is now a happy, fully integrated member of his community, and hopes the same for other refugee students in a currently difficult position.
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