Jordan: Iraqi refugee children start school

This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson Jennifer Pagonis to whom quoted text may be attributed at today's press briefing at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

Last weekend thousands of young Iraqis started enrolling in schools in Jordan after the government decided to let all Iraqi refugee children in the country attend public schools regardless of whether their parents have residency permits or not.

We warmly welcome this generous decision and the positive impact it will have on the lives of thousands of refugee children. We also hope to see strong support from the international community for the joint UNHCR-UNICEF education appeal for $129 million launched in late July aimed at getting an additional 155,000 uprooted Iraqi children in Syria, Jordan, Egypt and Lebanon back to school. So far, funding has been slow to come in although there are good indications that money will be forthcoming.

In Jordan, the school registration process began last Sunday at the start of the academic year. The Jordanian Ministry of Education has said that at least 50,000 Iraqi students are expected to enrol in schools across the country. They will have until September 15 to register.

Iraqi children will follow the same curriculum 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.

In some schools, children are being placed on a waiting list and referred to schools running double shifts - tutoring one group of students in the morning and a second group in the afternoon. Upon the completion of the registration process, the Jordanian Ministry of Education will assess needs, recruit new teachers and staff and arrange double-shift programmes in overcrowded schools.

More than 30 schools have been identified in the capital Amman to operate double shifts and more will be chosen in the cities of Zarqa and Irbid. An additional 2,500 teachers will be recruited in the next two weeks to handle the increasing number of students.

Jordan hosts an estimated 750,000 Iraqi refugees. Most have fled violence in their country since 2003 and about half are believed to be children, who have not been able to gain access to education in Jordan unless their parents had a residency permit or paid fees. UNHCR welcomes the continued generosity of both the Jordanian and Syrian governments. The two main host countries have borne a heavy burden caring for hundreds of thousands of Iraqis.

Under the joint education appeal UNHCR and UNICEF presented a plan to support host governments in providing Iraqis with an education for the 2007-08 academic year. Specific activities include providing prefab classrooms and buildings; identifying existing buildings that can be used as temporary schools; upgrading water and sanitation in schools; building new schools and/or additional classrooms; and rehabilitating existing facilities.

Many children have missed several years of schooling and special remedial programmes and psycho-social support will be established for them and their families in the hope of reintegrating them back into the school system. Special training will be provided to school counsellors and teachers in dealing with the special needs of Iraqi children, many who have been witness to extreme violence.

Despite this development, many Iraqis still face barriers to education as many families are running out of resources and sending their children out to work, especially in female headed households. In addition, some vulnerable Iraqis are unwilling to register their children at state schools because they do not have legal status in Jordan.