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Going to school — a right not to be ignored

Going to school — a right not to be ignored

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Published by Bill Frelick
Bill Frelick Iraqi refugees, Jordan Times, Jordan, refugee children. Human Rights Watch
Bill Frelick Iraqi refugees, Jordan Times, Jordan, refugee children. Human Rights Watch

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Published by: Bill Frelick on Jan 23, 2012
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05/13/2014

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Going to school
 —
a right not to be ignored | Human Rights Watch
 August 23, 2006By Bill Frelick Published in Jordan Times August 24, 2006The first day of school is a special day in the lives of children, but yesterday tens of thousandsof kids in Jordan spent it at home. They are foreigners
 —
mostly Iraqis
 —
whom thegovernment has not allowed to enrol because they lack residence permits. At least 500,000 Iraqis live in Jordan, most having fled the turmoil in their country. Althoughthe government has generally been tolerant towards Iraqis, the price of this tolerance hasbeen to ignore their presence. This means not acknowledging that most Iraqis are refugeeswho need at least temporary protection.Some 60,000 Iraqi children attended Jordanian schools last year, according to officials, whosaid they crowded classrooms and strained resources. The large numbers of Iraqis in Jordan,including children, undoubtedly put great strains on schools, health clinics and other socialservices that struggle to meet the needs of Jordanian citizens.The government
’ 
s response, however, should not be to sweep the Iraqis under the rug andpretend they don
’ 
t exist, but rather to acknowledge their presence and ask for internationalsupport so that Jordan can respond in a spirit of hospitality and generosity.Last year, the government first announced that foreign children without residence permitscould not attend public schools, then reversed its policy at the last minute. In the ensuingconfusion, many Iraqi parents did not enrol their children. Because of their parents
’ 
ongoingfear and uncertainty, many Iraqi children have now missed a year of school.
 “
The building where I live is full of Iraqi people,
” 
an Iraqi woman in Amman told HumanRights Watch during the last school year,
 “
and all the children are staying home. Nobody goesto school.
” 
Earlier this year, Iraqi parents in Amman told Human Rights Watch that they had receivednotices from the Ministry of Education telling them that their children would not be allowed toenrol in public schools this year. School principals were telling them the same thing.
http://www.hrw.org/en/news/2006/08/23/going-school-right-not-be-ignored
(1 of 3) [7/28/2011 11:02:58 AM]
 
Going to school
 —
a right not to be ignored | Human Rights Watch
Like last year, the government sent mixed signals this past week about its willingness to enrolIraqi children without residency permits. According to news reports, Prime Minister Marouf Bakhit told a visiting Iraqi dignitary last Thursday that Jordan was taking measures to facilitateresidency permit procedures for Iraqis. This, in turn, he suggested would enable their childrento attend public schools. But the prime minister
’ 
s remarks were too late, too vague, and toopoorly publicised to inform Iraqi parents about the steps they might take to allow theirchildren to go to school yesterday.Now, belatedly, the government has only a few weeks to change its policy by allowingchildren, regardless of residency status, to attend school and making sure that Iraqi parentsfully understand this change.If not, the UN committee that meets on Sept. 22 to review compliance with the Convention onthe Rights of the Child is likely to find Jordan in violation of its legal obligation to ensure theright of all children to free and compulsory primary education. The convention guaranteeseach child this right
 “
without discrimination of any kind
” 
and irrespective of the child
’ 
s orparent
’ 
s nationality or status.Education is doubly important for Iraqi children. For the many that have been traumatised byviolence, school is a refuge and a source of hope. An Iraqi refugee, who was imprisoned andtortured under the Baathist regime, told me that he no longer thinks of his own future, butonly that of his children.
 “
School is a psychological benefit for them,
” 
he said.
 “
It is the onlyplace they can breathe fresh air. They can
’ 
t wait for the next day to go to school. On vacationdays, I see them get more anxious.
” 
He said that the government
’ 
s announcement hascrushed his daughter.
 “
She wanted to be a scientist, a doctor, but now they have cut herwings.
” 
Iraqi children and their parents are not responsible for the war and persecution that haveforced them to flee their country, and they should not be blamed for their lack of residencystatus. Jordan does not have a refugee law to enable it to grant asylum and permission to stayfor people seeking its protection. It does not even issue residence permits to personsrecognised as refugees by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees. So far, the only Iraqiseligible for Jordanian residency permits are those who qualify according to normal immigrationcriteria, such as investors or people who have sought-after skills. Consequently, manythousands of Iraqis live in the shadows of Jordanian society.The government should immediately and unambiguously announce that all children arewelcome in public schools, regardless of their immigration status. Since many Iraqi parents willbe fearful, the government should also immediately embark on a public information campaignto persuade them that sending their kids to school will not jeopardise their status in Jordanand that their children will be treated with understanding and respect.
http://www.hrw.org/en/news/2006/08/23/going-school-right-not-be-ignored
(2 of 3) [7/28/2011 11:02:58 AM]

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