With the new school year kicking off on Sunday in Jordan, the United Nations refugee agency today praised the country for opening the doors of its local schools to tens of thousands of Iraqi children who have fled war in their homeland.
There are currently 750,000 Iraqi refugees – half are believed to be children – living in Jordan, most of them having fled their homeland following the outbreak of violence in 2003.
Until now, Iraqi children uprooted in Jordan could not receive educations unless their parents had residency permits or paid fees.
“This courageous gesture by the Jordanian Government will have to be strongly supported by the international community. It deserves wide recognition,” said Peter Janssen, acting representative in Jordan for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). “It will help many Iraqis give some meaning to a very difficult and, at times, hopeless situation.”
Iraqis will have until 15 September to take part in the registration process, and the Jordanian Ministry of Education has said it believes at least 50,000 Iraqi children will enrol in schools nationwide.
Iraqi children will follow the same curricula as Jordanian students and have access to the same school facilities. The programme is slated to include primary, secondary and vocational training as well as non-formal education where applicable.
At the end of the registration period, Jordanian officials will assess needs, recruit teachers and staff and organize double shifts in crowded schools.
Children are being placed on waiting lists in some schools and referred to schools running double shifts by tutoring one group in the morning and a second in the afternoon, UNHCR spokesperson Jennifer Pagonis told reporters in Geneva.
Nearly three dozen schools in the capital Amman will operate in double shifts, while others will follow in the cities of Zarqa and Irbid. An additional 2,500 teachers are expected to be hired in the next two weeks to handle the influx of new students.
Late last month, UNHCR and the UN Children’s Fund joined together to launch a $129 million education appeal to send 155,000 Iraqi refugee children to school in Syria, Jordan, Egypt and Lebanon. The funds would be used to provide prefab classrooms and buildings, upgrading water and sanitation in schools and building new schools and additional classrooms.
“So far, funding has been slow to come in although there are good indications that money will be forthcoming,” Ms. Pagonis noted.
Over 2 million Iraqis have fled their country, primarily to Jordan and Syria, and nearly half a million of them are of school age and most have limited or no access to education.
Ms. Pagonis said that “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.”