Like any student on the first day of class, they have written their names on folded pieces of paper. Unlike any other student, they have fled the war in Syrian and Iraq, thousands of kilometers away from this classroom. On Monday 2 November, over 20 refugee students attended their first French class at the International Institute for French Studies (IIEF) within the framework of an intensive language programme (17 hours a week).
The implementation of this specific course falls in with the letter sent by Alain Beretz to Mayor of Strasbourg Roland Ries in September. This letter expressed the president’s will to join forces with the City of Strasbourg to reach out and help refugees fleeing conflict in the Middle-East. The Board of Directors then voted in favour of tuition fees exemption for refugees wishing to pursue higher education. “ We received the first applications after we published a press release in French, English and Arabic”, IIEF director Liliane Koecher explains. “Everything went on very fast during the half-term holidays", adds IIEF administrative manager Nadia Tettamanti.
Along with Nadia Kardouz, she is in charge of the reception desk handling the applications. A first group of 25 students was formed within only five days. Liliane Koecher points out that the institute will only “constitute other groups once we make sure that we can offer the best studying conditions to these students”. Opening a new course would cost the IIEF €13,000 since it would imply hiring another French as a foreign language teacher.
" We had to leave everything behind"
Students are between 19 and 56 years old. A number of them are here with their spouse, brother or sister. One of them, Rivan, came along with his wife, his two sisters and two cousins. The Bekter family comes from a village not far from Mossul, Northern Iraq. “We are Christians, and Daesh was coming, so we had to leave everything behind. We had three hours to pack and leave.” The level of language proficiency within the group is variable: some students, like Steven, can say a few sentences in French. Others speak very little English and need interpreters.
According to their teacher Elodie Duval, the group is very motivated. Upon completion of the course, they will be awarded a university diploma which will allow them to pursue their higher education. Most of them had a job or were studying before fleeing their homeland: Vinyan was a nurse, Hossan an accountant, and Wajdi was studying English Literature in Damas. The specific measures implemented by Unistra allow refugees to enroll directly with their department of studies assuming they have sufficient proficiency in French, which was only the case of two applicants so far. “ French language proficiency is a requirement to study, but also to integrate into the French society”, Liliane Koecher adds.
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Along with Paris I, Strasbourg is one of the only French universities to offer such a programme. Refugee students are coming from Montpellier, Le Mans, Toulouse or Paris to attend these courses. Thirty-five students are already on a waiting list and requests keep coming from all across the country. Another dedicated course might open in the second semester, depending on the funds the University will be able to gather for it. To help with this process, the University Foundation launched a call for donation earlier this week.
To donate, please fill out the following online form: http://campagne.unistra.fr/etudiants-syriens