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Iraqi refugees turned away from public schools

Marketplace Staff Feb 5, 2007

Iraqi refugees turned away from public schools

Marketplace Staff Feb 5, 2007


MARK AUSTIN THOMAS: The UN says almost 50,000 people flee the war in Iraq each month. Three-quarters of a million refugees now live in Jordan, mostly in Amman. Life is safer there but not cheaper. In Jordan prices are high and refugees have to pay for many services like health care and electricity that were practically free in Iraq. One of the biggest strains on refugee families is that this year many children aren’t allowed into public schools. Amelia Templeton reports.

AMELIA TEMPLETON: A new semester is starting up in Amman, Jordan, but not for many of the children of Iraqi refugees. This year, two-thirds of them did not enroll in school.

Abu Mohammed is a 34-year-old refugee from Kirkuk with three kids.

ABU MOHAMMED [translation]: My children go to the window and they watch other children on their way to schools. It makes them feel deep sadness. They ask me ‘Why? Why don’t we go to school’?

In September, Abu Mohammed’s children were turned away by their neighborhood school.

A new government decree says Iraqi children can only attend public school if their families have official residency in Jordan. Effectively, that means public school is not an option for poor and middle-class refugees.

That’s left poor Iraqi parents like Abu Mohammed trying to scrape together tuition for private school. The cost for one child is often as much as six months’ rent for a refugee family.

Haneen Hamzah is with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in Jordan.

HANEEN HAMZAH: Sometimes they let only the boys go into schools or sometimes the elder person in the family drop out of shcool and have to work and the smaller brother or smaller sisters go to school.

Oum Hayder is a mother of five who fled Iraq six years ago. Last year, two of her daughters were expelled from elementary school when the headmaster discovered Oum Hayder wasn’t an official resident.

OUM HAYDER [translation]: I had to put them in a private school. They are brilliant students, the top of their class.

A charity organization helped her pay the girls’ tuition. But in September, her two sons were dismissed from their public high school also because of their immigration status. Oum Hayder wasn’t receiving enough aid to send all four children to school. So she sent Hayder, age 13, and Mohammed, age 16, to work in a shoe factory.

HAYDER [translation]: I’m so angry inside because they are working. My boys are also very bright. I wanted them to be doctors, engineers.

Still, this family is lucky. Kirkuk refugee Abu Mohammed couldn’t afford private tuition for any of his kids. Now he’s questioning whether leaving Iraq was the best choice for his family.

MOHAMMED [translation]: I know it is very difficult, but now I am considering going back for the sake of their studies. But what if one of them is kidnapped, what if is one of them is killed?

The Minister of Education told Marketplace the public schools are already overcrowded. He’s asked the United Nations to help pay tuition and residencies for Iraqi refugees so that Jordan doesn’t have to bear the burden on its own.

In Amman, I’m Amelia Templeton for Marketplace.

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