Brothers Molham and Mohammad Kayali spray-painted anti-government graffiti around Aleppo University in northern Syria in early 2012 and held up flags in protest against President Bashar al Assad's government. Worried that their lives were in danger, they gave up on school and fled to Turkey in September 2012.
They were reunited last year with their younger brother, Ebrahim, at Emporia State University, a small school in Kansas, joining among about 700 "academic refugees" now in the U.S. who either fled from the long-running violent conflict, attended universities that have closed or couldn't safely travel to schools in dangerous areas.
The Syrian conflict has displaced tens of thousands of students, and some schools in Syria were attacked, including in 2013 when at least 10 students were killed at an outdoor cafe at Damascus University.
It's a situation that has created an educational vacuum that universities around the world, including in the U.S., are seeking to fill in the hopes that the young Syrians will someday help rebuild their country.
"The main reason you learn is you learn to benefit your country, to protect your country," said 28-year-old Molham Kayali, who is looking for engineering jobs after graduating last month. "People in engineering, people in architecture can rebuild the country, can rebuild the construction, everything."
The New York-based Institute of International Education has helped organize a consortium of mostly U.S. and Portuguese schools and has provided 158 scholarships and 89 emergency grants to Syrian students, according to Daniela Kaisth, a vice president with the institute. Similar efforts were made to help Iraqi students after the U.S.-led invasion.
The latest data shows that the number of Syrian students attending U.S. universities swelled from 424 students in 2009-10 to 693 students in 2013-14, according to the institute's Open Doors Report on International Education Exchange, published in partnership with the U.S. Department of State.
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