UNHCR, by Abeer Etefa in Cairo, Egypt – Thousands of refugee children in Egypt have been returning to school at the beginning of the academic year this week, some for the first time in years. “I never studied before in a school, but I am excited to start attending school this year,” said eight-year-old Somalian refugee Aziza, who was starting school in the Cairo suburb of Al Rehab.
UNHCR is covering the costs of tuition, transportation and uniforms for more than 6,000 refugee children who have been unable to go to school because of conflict or due to the prohibitive costs. The agency is working with partners and community-based organizations to distribute the education cash grants.
“The education grant programme has been going on for several years to facilitate access for education, but this year we are giving out more grants because of the increasing number of refugees from different nationalities approaching the office, specifically Iraqis,” said Arushi Ray, UNHCR associate community services officer. “We expect more than 6,000 students to benefit from these grants.”
Many of the children starting school this week with UNHCR help, particularly young Iraqis like Ahmed, arrived in Cairo traumatized, ineligible as foreign nationals for enrolment in Egypt’s overcrowded public schools and unable to pay the fees demanded by private schools.
“We had a rough time last year as my father was kidnapped in Iraq and we started receiving death threats,” said Ahmed, who was enrolling at a school in 6th October City, a satellite of Cairo.
“I left Baghdad with my mother and sister and, since we arrived in the middle of the school year, I missed the whole year,” added the youngster, who was very excited about going aback to school.
While most recipients of education grants welcome the opportunity to go back to school, not everyone sees an education in exile as a passport to a better future. “We have been here for many years now and even if I finish high school, I do not have access to college or to jobs,” said Joseph, a 16-year-old from southern Sudan. “I keep wondering why I am in school for another year,” he added.
But UNHCR regards education as very important for young refugees. The agency, through its internet-based ninemillion campaign, is seeking to raise US$220 million to try and ensure that by the year 2010 all refugee children are getting an education.
Earlier this year, some 1,000 young refugees and asylum seekers attended UNHCR-funded summer programmes in more than 16 community and private schools funded by UNHCR. The courses included language training, intercultural education, outings and field trips.
UNHCR has registered more than 45,000 refugees and asylum seekers in Egypt, with most coming from the Sudan, Iraq and Somalia. The UNHCR office in Cairo provides basic assistance and care to more than 30,000 of them.