Jordan Lets Iraqi Children Attend School Jordan has changed its policy and is allowing Iraqi refugee children to go to school, even those children whose parents are in the country illegally. The U.S. has allocated $137 million to help Jordan's schools cope with the numbers, but only a trickle of Iraqi families are taking up the offer.
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Jordan Lets Iraqi Children Attend School

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Jordan Lets Iraqi Children Attend School

Jordan Lets Iraqi Children Attend School

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

The violence in Iraq continues to push Iraqis from their homes. New figures from the U.N.'s refugee agency show that some 60,000 Iraqis are fleeing every month. Around two million people are currently displaced inside the country. More than two million others have sought refuge in neighboring states including Jordan.

For the first time, Jordan has opened its schools to Iraqi children in a program funded by the U.N. and the United States.

NPR's Deborah Amos reports from Amman.

Ms. ELLEN SAURBREY (Assistant Secretary of State, Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration): Good morning.

Unidentified Man #1: (Unintelligible).

Ms. SAURBREY: Good morning.

DEBORAH AMOS: A former American high school teacher was in Jordan to support the government for opening schools to thousands of Iraqi children.

(Soundbite of clapping)

AMOS: Ellen Saurbrey, assistant secretary of state for population, refugees and migration, was greeted by students at a ceremony. They showered her with flower petals at the entrance to a girl's school.

The U.S. government is the largest donor - $30 million - in a U.N. program to get the children of Iraqi refugees back to school. Many haven't been in the classroom for more than two years.

John Cunliffe, emergency coordinator for the U.N.'s Children's Fund, welcomed Jordan's new policy.

Mr. JOHN CUNLIFFE (Emergency Coordinator, United Nations Children's Fund): Going back to school is a return to normalcy for kids, you now? Or for families. It's a routine. It's putting back something in their lives that they've missed since they came here.

AMOS: The new program targets 50,000 Iraqi students, but it will add to an already overcrowded Jordanian school system. U.N. funds will pay for new teachers, school fees for the poorest families.

But Jordanians are wary of the program, says Ayman Safadi, a Jordanian newspaper publisher.

Mr. AYMAN SAFADI (Editor-in-Chief, Al Ghad): You're going to have more pressure on teachers. You're going to have more pressure on infrastructure and schools. Schools are going to have to work two shifts now. Ultimately, you could have some negative feelings there, I think.

(Soundbite of musical instrument)

AMOS: This is still the summer season, school is a few weeks off, and children are on the streets. A cotton candy salesman beckons them to buy bags of sweets or the balloons tied to his belt.

Unidentified Man #2: (Foreign language spoken).

Unidentified Man #3: (Foreign language spoken).

AMOS: Abdul Razak Saji(ph) lives on this block with his six children. But he doesn't allow them to go outside. An Iraqi, he has no legal residence in Jordan, and he says he can't afford the stiff fees.

The new school program is designed to open schools for these Iraqis. And Saji admits his children miss their studies.

Mr. Abdul Razak Saji (Iraqi Refugee): (Through translator) It is difficult. Their future is going to be destroyed. They write on the papers, they scribble, they remember the school days.

AMOS: But Saji is also wary of the school program and has not registered his children yet. Jordanian police make regular sweeps through this neighborhood. Iraqis without the proper papers are often sent back to Iraq.

John Cunliffe of UNICEF says there's a climate of fear among the thousands of illegal exiles here. But school is just what the children need.

Mr. CUNLIFFE: A lot of the problems that they've had in Iraq - seeing things, losing family members - are being compounded here in Jordan because they've not had the opportunity to have a return to normalcy, of which schooling is fundamental.

AMOS: So far, registration has been slow, says Cunliffe. It will take time to gain the trust of Iraqis. They still fear they could be sent back home if their children come forward for Jordan school program.

Deborah Amos, NPR News, Amman.

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