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UN Appeals for Millions to Educate Iraqi Refugee Children


The U.N. refugee agency and U.N. Children's Fund are jointly appealing for $129 million to help get tens of thousands of uprooted Iraqi children back into school. The money will be used to support the governments of Syria, Jordan, Egypt and Lebanon provide school for an additional 155,000 young Iraqi refugees during the coming school year. Lisa Schlein reports for VOA from Geneva on the launch of the appeal.

More than two million Iraqis have fled to nearby countries, with most seeking refuge in Syria and Jordan. About one half million of the refugees are school-age children.

The U.N. agencies say most of the children have limited or no access to education. They warn that a generation of Iraqis could grow up uneducated and alienated.

Deputy Director of UNICEF's Emergency Programs, Pierrette Vu Thi, says Iraqi refugee children have lost practically everything. She says many have lost their parents, their relatives, and their friends. All have lost the stability of community life.

She says the children need to return to school. She says school can help restore a sense of normalcy and help the children overcome psychological and other forms of distress.

She says Iraqi children in Syria and Jordan face mounting obstacles to schooling.

"Overcrowding is preventing children from attending school," said Vu Thi. "Lack of financial resources means that families cannot buy supplies, school uniforms, etc. Poverty means that many children have to work to contribute to the resources of the family. And, emotional distress and concerns about resident status also force many families to keep their children at home."

The U.N. refugee agency and UNICEF say they will mount an information campaign to inform parents that it is all right to send their children to school. The agencies say parents need to be assured that their children will be welcomed in the government-run schools and that their school fees and supplies will be covered.

UNHCR's Assistant High Commissioner for Operations, Judy Cheng-Hopkins, says more schools will need to be built to alleviate overcrowding. But, that will not be possible before the term begins at the end of August. Therefore, she says practical measures will have to be taken to accommodate all the students.

"We will be doing things like double-shifts, probably a morning and afternoon session" she said. "We will be bringing in temporary pre-fab schools. There is also going to be an element of non-formal education for the ones who just cannot attend and have some system of networks of non-formal education and teachers. So we just have to be very practical just to get as many children educated as possible."

The U.N. agencies note that only about 33,000 of an estimated 300,000 Iraqi children in Syria are enrolled in school. In Jordan, 19,000 Iraqi girls and boys are in school, while at least 50,000 do not attend.

They say many children already have missed up to three years of schooling. The agencies plan to hold special remedial classes and provide the children and their families with counseling to help them reintegrate back into school.

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