Hope for Iraqis as their children register for Jordan's public schools

Nine-year-old Hassan will soon be going back to school for the first time since arriving in Jordan three years ago. On Tuesday, the nine-year-old held his mother's hand and waited anxiously in line to register his name for entry to a public school. Tens of thousands of other Iraqis are expected to follow suit.

Young girls enjoy the beginning of the academic year in Jordan. Tens of thousands of Iraqi refugees will be joining public schools this year.   © UNHCR/D.Bajjali

AMMAN, Jordan, August 21 (UNHCR) - Hassan is happy. The Iraqi refugee child will be going back to school for the first time since arriving in Jordan three years ago. On Tuesday, the nine-year-old held his mother's hand and waited anxiously in line at an aid agency to register for a place at a public school. "I want to go to school," he stressed.

That long-held wish has been granted by the Jordanian government, which has opened up public schools to tens of thousands of young Iraqis despite the inevitable strain on the education system.

The academic year began on Sunday and Iraqis children have until September 15 to register to study. The Ministry of Education has said it expects more than 50,000 to sign up across the country. For many parents and their children this is a valuable opportunity, but also a sign of hope amid an uncertain future.

"This is a very generous and courageous decision by the government of Jordan," Peter Janssen, UNHCR's acting representative in Jordan, said as the Iraqi children started registering. "This will bring hope for many families and we stand ready to help the government."

The government decision has come none too soon for many families, who had used up precious savings to send their children through fee-paying schools.

Government regulations had previously only allowed Iraqis with residence permits to access public schools.

"I know a woman who told me she could not send her children to private school anymore," said Sandas, an Iraqi mother of three who has volunteered to help register children.

But it may be too late for her oldest son, aged 18. "I am not too sure he will go back to school," she said. "At least my other children will have the opportunity and this gives them hope for the future."

Iraqi children will follow the same curricula as Jordanian students and will have access to the same school facilities. Depending on needs, the programme will include primary, secondary and vocational training as well as non-formal education, where applicable.

Jordan hosts an estimated 750,000 Iraqi refugees. Most have fled violence in their country since 2003 and many are children, many of whom have not been able to gain access to education in Jordan.

UNHCR and the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) last month appealed for US$129 to set up a regional programme that will encourage school-aged Iraqi children to enrol in school, while simultaneously benefiting the host communities hosting them.

By Rana F. Sweis in Amman, Jordan