As the new school year kicked off this week in Syria, tens of thousands of Iraqi refugee children have started classes there with help from United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).
Since early this year, Syria has been preparing to accommodate 100,000 Iraqi students in its schools during the 2007-2008 academic year, up from some 33,000 last year. UNHCR estimates that 1.4 million Iraqis – 250,000 of them of school age – who have fled the violence in their homeland are currently living in Syria.
Laurens Jolles, the agency’s representative in Syria, said the Iraqi children there are the future of their country. “Many have already missed out on a considerable amount of their education, both in Iraq and as refugees in Syria. It is one of our top priorities to support the Ministry of Education to accommodate the tens of thousands of Iraqi children who want to enrol in schools.”
UNHCR has several plans – such as transportation to other schools with space, temporary classrooms and providing extra funding to pay teachers’ salaries for school with double-shift systems – in place to aid schools overwhelmed by applications from Iraqi children.
With the support of the Syrian Red Crescent, UNHCR has distributed school uniforms to more than 11,000 school children in the past two weeks, and aims to supply another 9,000 more in the coming months.
“My dream in life is to be a doctor,” said 16-year-old Nada, who is attending school for the first time in two years. “I find it really hard to study in Syria – my whole life is disrupted. Although I wish I could return to my life in Iraq, I am grateful that I have the opportunity to study again.”
She graduated as one of the top 10 students in the Baghdad region in June 2005, but her family fled to Syria after the murders of three of her uncles and the kidnapping of another.
In July, UNHCR and the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) issued a joint appeal for $129 million to support the education of Iraqi refugees in the region, and they have also established an Emergency Education Taskforce to tackle the issues preventing Iraqi refugees from receiving schooling. By the end of this year, UNHCR expects to have given more than $20 million to the Syrian Ministry of Education, with that figure to increase in 2008.