Iraqi refugee children head back to packed public schools in Jordan

News Stories, 25 August 2008

© UNHCR/S.Malkawi
Back to School: Iraqi refugee children, for the second straight year, can access Jordan's public schools regardless of legal status.

AMMAN, Jordan, August 25 (UNHCR) Eleven-year-old Laila* was a picture of happiness at the beginning of last week when she joined hundreds of thousands of other children around Jordan and returned to school after the two-month summer break.

"I am thankful that I have been given the opportunity to go back to school. I have made many friends and am always encouraged," said the youngster, one of tens of thousands of children who have enrolled in Jordan's public education system since King Abdullah II opened it up a year ago to all Iraqi students, regardless of their legal status.

With the encouragement of the UN refugee agency and its partners, many Iraqi children have been leaving costly private institutions and joining public schools like the one in Amman's Marka district that Laila attends. UNHCR believes it is essential that all refugees continue to receive an education, which was not possible for the neediest before the king's decree.

But the influx of new Iraqi students, combined with the king's efforts to increase enrolment by Jordanian children amid soaring fuel and food costs, is putting a significant strain on the public education system. A reported 31,000 Jordanian children have transferred from private to public schools for this academic year.

"We are critically aware that the pressure on the public [education] system is immense," said Imran Riza, UNHCR's representative to Jordan. The Jordanian government has begun renting additional space and hiring more teachers, but many schools are reportedly no longer accepting applications from Iraqis or Jordanians.

Some schools have waiting lists and some will resort to organizing so-called double-shifting holding academic sessions for one class in the morning and another in the afternoon.

But despite the difficulties and logistical problems, the UN refugee agency is determined to ensure that young Iraqi refugees do not miss out on classes. Riza, who welcomed Jordan's decision to continue allowing all Iraqi children to enrol in public school this year, said that "for UNHCR, education remains a priority as well as a challenge."

In July and August, UNHCR and its partners conducted a campaign to increase school enrolment this academic year and to encourage Iraqi refugees who had exhausted their savings to transfer their children from private to public schools.

Despite Jordan's generosity in opening up its public schools last year and so ensuring that many Iraqi children could continue or restart their education, UNHCR is concerned that large numbers of school-age refugees are still missing out on classes.

Although there is only a small annual contribution to enrol in public schools, many of the increasing number of cash-strapped families such as Laila's are opting to send all, or some, of their children out to work. "My [older] brother has been out of school for three years because he has been forced to work to provide for our family," Laila revealed.

UNHCR is looking at other ways of boosting numbers, including working with the government on expanding the capacity of public schools. It is also examining the introduction of evening classes that Iraqi refugee children can attend after work. Other initiatives under consideration include non-diploma courses in areas such as computer skills, language and art, where the object would be simply to equip people with marketable skills.

"One of the most crucial challenges that we face is that we do not lose the literacy and futures of a generation of Iraqi children due to displacement," said UNHCR's Riza.

* Name changed for protection reasons

By Ziad Ayad in Amman, Jordan




UNHCR country pages


Education is vital in restoring hope and dignity to young people driven from their homes.

DAFI Scholarships

The German-funded Albert Einstein German Academic Refugee Initiative provides scholarships for refugees to study in higher education institutes in many countries.


Almost half the people of concern to UNHCR are children. They need special care.

Refworld – Children

Refworld – Children

This Special Feature on Child Protection is a comprehensive source of relevant legal and policy documents, practical tools and links to related websites.

Iraq Crisis: Urgent Appeal

Make a gift now to help protect and assist those fleeing violence in Iraq.

Donate to this crisis

The Children of Harmanli Face a Bleak Winter

Since the Syrian crisis began in March 2011, more than 2 million people have fled the violence. Many have made their way to European Union countries, finding sanctuary in places like Germany and Sweden. Others are venturing into Europe by way of Bulgaria, where the authorities struggle to accommodate and care for some 8,000 asylum-seekers, many of whom are Syrian. More than 1,000 of these desperate people, including 300 children, languish in an overcrowded camp in the town of Harmanli, 50 kilometres from the Turkish-Bulgarian border. These people crossed the border in the hope of starting a new life in Europe. Some have travelled in family groups; many have come alone with dreams of reuniting in Europe with loved ones; and still others are unaccompanied children. The sheer number of people in Harmanli is taxing the ability of officials to process them, let alone shelter and feed them. This photo essay explores the daily challenges of life in Harmanli.

The Children of Harmanli Face a Bleak Winter

Erbil's Children: Syrian Refugees in Urban Iraq

Some of the most vulnerable Syrian refugees are children who have sought shelter in urban areas with their families. Unlike those in camps, refugees living in towns and cities in countries like Iraq, Turkey and Jordan often find it difficult to gain access to aid and protection. In a refugee camp, it is easier for humanitarian aid organizations such as UNHCR to provide shelter and regular assistance, including food, health care and education. Finding refugees in urban areas, let alone helping them, is no easy task.

In Iraq, about 100,000 of the 143,000 Syrian refugees are believed to be living in urban areas - some 40 per cent of them are children aged under 18 years. The following photographs, taken in the northern city of Erbil by Brian Sokol, give a glimpse into the lives of some of these young urban refugees. They show the harshness of daily life as well as the resilience, adaptability and spirit of young people whose lives have been overturned in the past two years.

Life is difficult in Erbil, capital of the Kurdistan Region of Iraq. The cost of living is high and it is difficult to find work. The refugees must also spend a large part of their limited resources on rent. UNHCR and its partners, including the Kurdish Regional Government, struggle to help the needy.

Erbil's Children: Syrian Refugees in Urban Iraq

UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador Angelina Jolie meets Iraqi refugees in Syria

UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador Angelina Jolie returned to the Syrian capital Damascus on 2 October, 2009 to meet Iraqi refugees two years after her last visit. The award-winning American actress, accompanied by her partner Brad Pitt, took the opportunity to urge the international community not to forget the hundreds of thousands of Iraqi refugees who remain in exile despite a relative improvement in the security situation in their homeland. Jolie said most Iraqi refugees cannot return to Iraq in view of the severe trauma they experienced there, the uncertainty linked to the coming Iraqi elections, the security issues and the lack of basic services. They will need continued support from the international community, she said. The Goodwill Ambassador visited the homes of two vulnerable Iraqi families in the Jaramana district of southern Damascus. She was particularly moved during a meeting with a woman from a religious minority who told Jolie how she was physically abused and her son tortured after being abducted earlier this year in Iraq and held for days. They decided to flee to Syria, which has been a generous host to refugees.

UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador Angelina Jolie meets Iraqi refugees in Syria

Jordan: Iris scanning program in action
Play video

Jordan: Iris scanning program in action

UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi visited an iris scanning identification programme during a visit to Jordan, where about 85 percent of the 630,000 Syrian refugee live in cities. The secure biometric programme ensures that the most needy receive the cash assistance they need much faster and more easily, allowing them to pay for food and rent.
South Sudan: A Long Walk in Search of Safety Play video

South Sudan: A Long Walk in Search of Safety

Years of fighting between Sudan and rebel forces have sent more than 240,000 people fleeing to neighbouring South Sudan, a country embroiled in its own conflict. After weeks on foot, Amal Bakith and her five children are settling in at Ajoung Thok refugee camp where they receive food, shelter, access to education and land.
Christmas tree a gift of love for refugees in GreecePlay video

Christmas tree a gift of love for refugees in Greece

For children spending Christmas at the Idomeni refugee reception centre in northern Greece, Congolese asylum seeker Michel Kamusha has "a gift of love." Drawing on his skills as an artist he decorates a Christmas with tree with socks, toys, shoes and clothes to give the youngsters "hope for Christmas."