Global perspective Human stories

UN launches $129 million appeal to educate Iraqi children who have fled their homeland

UN launches $129 million appeal to educate Iraqi children who have fled their homeland

Warning that a generation of Iraqis could grow up uneducated and alienated, the United Nations today launched a $129 million appeal to ensure that tens of thousands of uprooted children who have fled their homeland can resume their education.

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) jointly presented the 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 2007-2008 school year.

“These host countries have borne an enormous burden caring for millions of Iraqis,” UNHCR’s Assistant High Commissioner for Operations Judy Cheng-Hopkins told news conference at the United Nations in Geneva, noting that of the more than 2 million Iraqis have fled the continuing violence in their homeland, some 500,000 are of school age and most currently have limited or no access to education.

“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.”

The praise for the host countries was echoed by Deputy Director of UNICEF’s Office of Emergency Programmes Pierrette Vu. “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,” she said.

“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.”

Activities envisaged in the appeal include providing pre-fabricated 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 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 more than 4,000 new teachers will be required for the 155,000 additional children. The programme will cover salaries, other entitlements and training costs for the additional teachers.

Many children have already missed have already missed up to three years of schooling and remedial programmes and psycho-social support will be established for them and their families in hopes of reintegrating them in the school system. Training will be provided to school counsellors and teachers to deal with the special needs of Iraqi children, many of whom suffered traumatic experiences.

The appeal notes that of an estimated 300,000 Iraqi school-age children in Syria, only about 33,000 are currently enrolled, although the Government has given them full access to schools. In Jordan, the Government estimates 19,000 Iraqi girls and boys are in school, while at least 50,000 do not attend.

In a related development, the UN World Health Organization (WHO) is convening a meeting of officials from the Health Ministries of Egypt, Iraq, Jordan and Syria in Damascus, Syria, starting Sunday, to discuss how to ensure delivery of health care to the Iraqis who have fled their homeland to neighbouring countries.

“We need to work with all partners to address the key health needs of Iraqis,” WHO Regional Director for the Eastern Mediterranean Hussein A. Gezairy said, noting that the host countries’ national health systems are being overwhelmed by the growing demand with thousands of people leaving Iraq every month.