A programme to enable 30 Syrian refugees to continue their university studies in Mexico has welcomed its first student.
The Habesha Project is an initiative funded through private donations and designed to “send a message of solidarity to the Syrian nation” and “increase awareness about the humanitarian crisis in the Middle East” by providing “full scholarships in some of the most prestigious Mexican universities, health insurance and a monthly stipend” to students who have fled the conflict in Syria.
It also views such “students as an asset and opportunity to promote an intercultural dialogue that fosters an international culture of peace”.
The project has now achieved its first success as Essa Hassan takes up his engineering studies at the Universidad Panamericana in Aguascalientes, the city where Habesha is based.
As he describes on the Habesha website, Mr Hassan studied library science in Damascus from 2006 to 2012, where he witnessed fierce crackdowns on student protest, but then decided to flee Syria to avoid military service.
He left home with only $450 (£300) and a few books, worked in a coffee shop in Turkey and then a hotel in Lebanon – a country where it is hard for Syrians to access higher education – and eventually reached Italy in 2014.
Though he found work as a translator, life otherwise proved difficult and he began to think about embarking on a master’s and a PhD with a view to eventually returning to Syria to work as a college teacher. He welcomed news of the Habesha initiative as a golden opportunity.
Although a number of potential students have been selected, Mr Hassan is the first to reach Mexico and was warmly welcomed in Mexico City. He is believed to be the first Syrian refugee of any kind to be received in the country.