Education for Iraqi refugee children in Syria

Kids play in a neighbourhood populated mostly by Iraqi refugees. Because refugees are not allowed to work in Syria, children often must take informal jobs to help support their families.   © UNHCR/M.Bernard

I. Background

There are some 1.4 million Iraqi refugees living in Syria, most having fled the extreme sectarian violence sparked by the bombing of the Golden Mosque of Samarra in 2006. The Syrian government has a policy of welcoming all children from the Arab world in the country to enrol in school. Despite this, only 10 percent of school-age Iraqi children are currently enrolled - a total of 33,000 pupils.

II. Challenges

Iraqis value education highly, and many refugee parents regard education as their top priority, equal in importance to security. While still in Iraq, many of the refugee children faced enormous danger just getting to school, and some attended school only one out of 10 days. As a consequence, most have fallen behind their grade level. If they are to be accepted in Syrian schools, they must repeat one or two grades - something most are willing to do to get a prized education. In addition, there are huge differences between the Syrian and Iraqi curricula, a fact that places the Iraqi children at a further disadvantage when joining normal Syrian classes. There is a great need for remedial education to help Iraqi children catch up.

Furthermore, although education is free in Syria, many Iraqi families cannot afford school uniforms, school supplies or even transportation to school. And far too many refugee children have to work to support their families instead of attending school.

III. UNHCR Intervention

UNHCR, UNICEF and the Syrian Ministry of Education are working together to try to enrol 100,000 Iraqi refugee children during the 2007-2008 school year. To encourage poor Iraqi families to register their children, UNHCR plans to provide financial assistance to at least 25,000 school-age children, and to provide uniforms, books and school supplies to Iraqi refugees registered with UNHCR. The agency will also advise refugees of their right to send their children to school, and will support NGO programmes for working children.

To make sure there is enough space for these children, UNHCR is supporting the Syrian Ministry of Education by building six to nine new schools for Iraqis and Syrians this year, and renovating and improving some 70 existing schools during 2007. In addition, with UNHCR support, the ministry will bus children to schools that have room for additional students, and will institute a shift system to double the number of children who can study every day.