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 School woes for Iraqi children

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مُساهمةموضوع: School woes for Iraqi children    الثلاثاء 17 مايو 2011, 4:40 am

School woes for Iraqi children

A majority of children in Iraq, where more than 40 per cent of the population are aged below 15, have been struggling to finish primary school.Overcrowded classrooms and a lack of basic amenities are deterring some parents from sending their children to school.

The condition of schools has also come under attack, as Iraqis continue protests over unemployment, poor services and corruption.Al Jazeera's Jane Arraf reports from Baghdad.

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700,000 Iraqi children fail to enroll in schools

The number of children staying away from school in Iraq is estimated at 700,000 a year, a new survey reveals.The survey, by the Tamuz Organization for Social Development, said half the primary school pupils who successfully complete their education, join higher levels.

The survey comes amid reports that many school buildings in the country are in need of repairs and that some may not be suitable for teaching.The reports say more than 20% of Iraq primary student population, estimated at nearly four million, drop out of school.

They are mainly widowed children who join the growing child labor force in the country to support their mothers and siblings.The percentage of children staying away from school differs from region to region, the survey said.

It said the percentage of those joining school was higher in the northern and southern parts of the country than in the southern region.In the south, it said, up to 65% of children of school age stay away from school.

More girls than boys remain without education in the country, according to the survey."Across the country only 80% of girls of school age join school with 90% of boys," the survey said.

By Israa al-Samaraai, Azzaman

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Conditions for Iraqi refugees less than ideal

Khalida sits on a plastic white chair, her legs crossed tightly underneath her thighs. A scar snakes out from her faded black blouse to her collarbone. Her lips quiver as she whispers, “I’m still scared.” Khalida, 45, is an Iraqi refugee.

She has suffered from breast cancer for five years and is currently undergoing chemotherapy. She runs her hand through her patchy, dark-brown hair, which barely reaches over her ears.“I think I got cancer because of my fear. They want to kill me, cut me to pieces. They would not treat my cancer because I am Christian,” she says. “They would rather see me suffer. I will never go back.”

Khalida fled to Lebanon after members of Al-Qaeda in Iraq detonated bombs in her village of Karakoush. Like many Christian Iraqi refugees, she ran away from persecution in search of security, but coming to Lebanon has not meant a lasting refuge; it is only a place to wait for her next destination.

The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees estimates that 30-40 percent of all registered refugees leave Lebanon each year and of those who leave, most are accepted for resettlement in a third country, said Dana Sleiman, the public information associate at UNHCR.Habib Malik, who teaches history at the Lebanese American University, said many refugees are caught in a “legal limbo” while in Lebanon, which is also often only “a stepping stone for a third country.”

“Lebanon does not have the capacity to naturalize or accept outsiders,” Malik added. “It’s a tragic situation to see such minorities suffer.”Refugees are not entitled to work, and those who do find work without a permit are often exploited, Sleiman said. They can also get in trouble with the law.“Refugees who enter without prior authorization or who overstay their visas are … at risk of arrest, detention and deportation,” she added.

“At any given time there are close to 100 persons of concern detained in Lebanon either for illegal stay or for working without a permit,” Sleiman said. “Many are held long beyond the length of their sentences, put with serious criminals in overcrowded cells where harassment and discrimination are a constant concern.”

Most refugees arrive deeply distraught, many have experienced trauma and are in need of psychiatric assistance. UNHCR teams with partners to confront the hardships facing refugees, and operates in Lebanon with a budget of over $9 million, said Sleiman.This budget is directed to many areas. UNHCR and its partners provide counseling services, assist refugees to find housing and to purchase food and essentials. They help children attend school and help ensure that refugees receive essential medical services, including psychosocial support.

Khalida lives in Fanar illegally with her three children. She left her home, her relatives and her job as a writer because of the constant threats she and her family faced in Iraq. “They attacked my son because of his faith,” she said.She receives medical aid for her cancer from Caritas, a non-governmental organization that provides educational, medical, legal, psychiatric and financial services for people in need. Caritas’s major contributor is the UNHCR and they work closely together in helping refugees.

Inside the Caritas Iraqi refugee center in Sad al-Bouchriyeh in Fanar, sits Rania Chehab, the senior social worker in charge of the center. Her wooden desk is covered with stacks of white, green, and yellow and on her right a gray telephone rings endlessly.Outside her office sit a dozen Iraqi refugees on plastic chairs all waiting for her. The door opens abruptly and a woman walks in hastily. She holds a tissue in her hand, and tears streaming down her face. “Rania, I need to talk to you now, please” she says.

The 45-year-old woman, Nassrah, sits in front of Chehab, who ends a phone call and asks what’s happened.Nassrah, a mother of three, was living in Kanisah, Iraq when church bombings began there. She and her husband, who she said worked for the CIA, felt their lives were in danger after the bombings and several threatening phone calls and decided to leave Iraq.

She and her kids left for Iraqi Kurdistan while her husband promised to follow after the wedding of his daughter, from a previous marriage. On the day of the wedding, a gang of masked men shot Nassrah’s husband.“His poor daughter carried him in her white gown to the hospital,” she said. Her husband died just after he arrived at the hospital, she added.

Nassrah came to Chehab’s office because the U.N. told her that it would not recognize her husband’s death certificate, even though it was produced in Baghdad’s Green Zone.“They promised to save us from the people who want to hurt us. My husband devoted his life to them and they did nothing. They merely paid $1,500 to bury him,” she said. “The Americans told me not to contact them again and find my own way.”

The U.S. government did not provide the support that Nassrah was expecting, but Sleiman said that the U.S. government is a major donor for the UNHCR’s registered refugees.“Between 2007 and 2010, the U.S. contributed $643.9 million to the programs addressing the needs of the displaced Iraqis, representing over 70 percent of the total costs of the UNHCR operations in this population,” she said.

But sometimes programs aren’t enough. Nassrah lives in Fanar with her children, one of whom is still traumatized by his father’s death and has not left the house since they have arrived in the country. “He doesn’t talk to anyone, doesn’t go to school and won’t even open the door,” she said.“We tried to help him, pleaded with him to talk to our psychiatrist but he refused,” Chehab said. “Many of the refugees come severely distressed and under immense emotional strain.”

Amal, a 39-year-old a mother of three, is from Baghdad. Her son Fadi, was kidnapped in a store and a ransom of $20,000 was demanded. After begging to neighbors and churches, her family came up with $5,000. But when her husband went to meet the kidnappers, they called Amal, demanding the full amount. Amal contacted the police, and soon after she received a call from the kidnappers telling her she was now a widow.

Amal never heard from her husband again. She fled to Lebanon and has since worked for four years cleaning the offices for Caritas and is now preparing to leave for Australia, after several years of arranging immigration paperwork.“I have nothing to live for here, nothing to look forward to,” she said. “I will go there to start a third life with my family.”

By Shahera Khader, The Daily Star
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School woes for Iraqi children
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