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Since the 1970s, thousands of Middle Eastern and North African (MENA) students have been amongst the 40,000 recipients of a free education at universities and other further education institutions in Cuba. Drawing on interviews conducted with Muslim MENA university students in Cuba, including both citizens and refugees, I suggest that their legal statuses played central roles during their time in the Caribbean island, as well as structuring their expectations for the future. This article examines both Muslim youth experiences of, and Cuban motivations behind, an internationalist education programme that has been marginalised by both academics and policy-makers alike. Further, it explores and contextualises these students' perceptions of life in Cuba throughout the 1980s and 1990s, and of the conditions in their places of origin, which in many cases are refugee camps or hosting countries. In addition to offering these individuals a further education with an aim of enhancing self-sustainability in their ‘home’ countries/spaces, I propose that this programme is a clear alternative, and even a challenge, to the way in which the education of foreign students is structured and managed elsewhere by states and institutions driven by different socio-economic and political priorities.

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Journal article


Taylor & Francis

Publication Date



15 (2)


137 - 155