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UNHCR and UNICEF issue joint appeal to get Iraqi children back to school

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UNHCR and UNICEF issue joint appeal to get Iraqi children back to school

27 July 2007 Also available in:

Friday 27 July, 2007

GENEVA - UNICEF and the UN refugee agency today issued a $129 million joint appeal aimed at getting tens of thousands of uprooted Iraqi children back in school.

Warning that a generation of Iraqis could grow up uneducated and alienated, the two UN agencies presented a plan to support host governments such as Syria, Jordan, Egypt and Lebanon in providing schooling for an additional 155,000 young Iraqi refugees during the 2007-08 school year.

Altogether, more than 2 million Iraqis have fled to nearby countries - primarily Syria and Jordan - to escape continuing violence in their homeland. About 500,000 of them are of school age and most currently have limited or no access to education.

Jordan announced on Thursday it would give all Iraqi children in the country access to Jordanian schools.

"We are very grateful to Jordan for this humanitarian decision," said Judy Cheng-Hopkins, UNHCR's Assistant High Commissioner for Operations. "These host countries have borne an enormous burden caring for millions of Iraqis. The sheer number of uprooted Iraqis has outstripped the capacity of their infrastructure to cope, particularly in the area of education. So we are now asking for international support specifically aimed at assisting these generous host governments in getting Iraqi children back into school."

Pierrette Vu Thi, Deputy Director of UNICEF's Office of Emergency Programmes, said: "UNICEF believes schooling is a primary concern in all emergency situations because it can help restore a sense of normalcy to the lives of children and can help them overcome psychological and other forms of distress. The Jordanian and Syrian governments have done a tremendous job so far of welcoming Iraqis as guests. The children of Iraq have waited long enough. Action must be taken now so that children are ready to go to school when classes begin."

The $129 million appeal notes that of an estimated 300,000 Iraqi school-age children in Syria, only about 33,000 are currently enrolled in school although the government has given them full access. In Jordan, the government estimates that 19,000 Iraqi girls and boys are in school, while at least 50,000 do not attend. The goal of the appeal, which covers the period from August 2007 to the end of 2008, is to enable another 100,000 Iraqi children to attend school in Syria; 50,000 in Jordan; 2,000 in Egypt; 1,500 in Lebanon and 1,500 in other countries in the region.

UNHCR and UNICEF will work with the ministries of education and other partners in each country to support expansion of the absorption capacity of public schools; to reintegrate those who have dropped out of school - particularly girls and adolescents; to provide outreach and direct support to some 12,000 poor and vulnerable families; and to inform Iraqi families of the opportunity to get their children back in school.

Specific activities will include providing prefabricated classrooms and buildings as soon as possible; 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 schools. Double-shifting in existing schools will be an option. Buses will be rented or purchased to transport children to school. The appeal estimates that more than 4,000 new teachers will be required for the target goal of 155,000 additional children. The UNICEF - UNHCR programme will cover salaries, other entitlements and training costs for the additional teachers.

Many children have already missed up to three years of schooling and special remedial programmes and psycho-social support will be established for them and their families in hopes 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 of whom faced traumatic experiences.