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UN: Many Syrian Refugees Educated, Seeking Better Lives

A Red Cross volunteer carries a Syrian refugee baby off an overcrowded raft at a beach on the Greek island of Lesbos Nov. 16, 2015.

As terrorism fears spark debates in Europe and the United States about how many, if any, Syrian refugees to let into these countries, a survey by the U.N. has found that many are young, educated and seeking safety and opportunity in a new country.

The survey was conducted by the U.N. refugee agency between April and September. Teams working at the borders in Greece interviewed over 1,200 refugees – a small sampling of the 263,000 Syrians who arrived in Greece during that same period – but a snapshot of those making the journey to Europe.

Who Are They?

The U.N. found that the majority of those questioned are well educated. Eighty-six percent of the refugees had secondary or university educations. Most were young – under 35-years-old – and hoping to go to Germany or Sweden where they believe there are job and education opportunities, as well as assistance and rights for refugees. Less than three percent said they planned to remain in Greece.

Their professions were wide-ranging, including merchants, carpenters, engineers, teachers, doctors and hairdressers. A large group said they were still students.

They were nearly equally divided among single and married people, those with children and those without. The vast majority – 85 percent – identified as Sunni Muslim.

Most are fleeing the nearly five years of conflict in Syria. The bulk of those interviewed came from Damascus and its surrounding areas, and Aleppo – regions which have seen extensive barrel bombing and fighting.

More than 60 percent of the refugees said they left Syria this year. Most spent a brief amount of time in a transit country – most often Turkey or Lebanon – before making the dangerous journey across the Mediterranean to Greece.

They said they decided to leave because it was too expensive to stay in the transit country, and they could not find adequate jobs or financial assistance.