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

• DONATE NOW •

 

• GET INVOLVED • • STAY INFORMED •

UNHCR country pages

Children

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

CAR Crisis: Urgent Appeal

Make a gift now to help protect and assist those fleeing violence in Central African Republic.

Donate to this crisis

Education

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.

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

Afghan Street Children Turn from Beggars to Beauticians

A UNHCR-funded project in Kabul, Afghanistan, is helping to keep returnee children off the streets by teaching them to read and write, give them room to play and offer vocational training in useful skills such as tailoring, flower making, and hairstyling.

Every day, Afghan children ply the streets of Kabul selling anything from newspapers to chewing gum, phone cards and plastic bags. Some station themselves at busy junctions and weave through traffic waving a can of smoking coal to ward off the evil eye. Others simply beg from passing strangers.

There are an estimated 50,000 to 60,000 street children in the Afghan capital alone. Among them are those who could not afford an education as refugees in Iran or Pakistan, and are unable to go to school as returnees in Afghanistan because they have to work from dawn to dusk to support their families. For the past seven years, a UNHCR-funded project has been working to bring change.

Posted on 12 November 2008

Afghan Street Children Turn from Beggars to Beauticians

Cameroon: A Story of SurvivalPlay video

Cameroon: A Story of Survival

In Minawao camp, Cameroon, the memories of immense suffering are still haunting Nigerian refugees, even young children like Ibrahim.
Iraq: Heartbreak at the BorderPlay video

Iraq: Heartbreak at the Border

As the Syria crisis enters a fifth year, Syrians continue to seek safety abroad. But desperation is driving some to return to their war-torn country.
Chad: A Nigerian Child AlonePlay video

Chad: A Nigerian Child Alone

Thousands of refugees have fled militant attacks in Nigeria and sought safety in Chad. They include at least 100 children who have been provided shelter by other families.