Drawing on observations and interviews with teachers and students enrolled in a camp secondary school, this article documents how youth aspirations are constructed, supported and constrained in the context of a limited opportunity structure. Data demonstrate that schools enforce cultural scripts of meritocracy, along with assurances that hard work in school will be rewarded with post‐secondary education and economic returns. The possibilities for upward social mobility driving this narrative were central to sustaining hope for students, despite being structurally out of reach of the vast majority. Nearing school completion, as young people confronted a gap between their aspirations and the opportunities available for their fulfilment, they more readily critiqued the inequitable distribution and quality of educational opportunities available to citizens and noncitizens. Yet even as they developed these critiques, they strategically reasserted the logic of educational meritocracy, rationalising that ranked systems benefitting a few to the exclusion of the majority were reasonable and just in contexts of scarcity. This study illustrates the ways that marginalised groups such as refugees deepen awareness of structural inequities and develop systemic critiques informed by their experiences, while strategically reinscribing trust and aspiring to inclusion in the same system in which they experienced betrayal. In the context of unprecedented global im/migration, this article draws attention to everyday struggles of refugee youth and a rapidly growing educational challenge that needs to be addressed systematically in contexts of displacement.