By Salam Abdulmunem
DOHUK, Iraq, 22 August 2012- The first thing that strikes you as you walk into the Domiz refugee camp is the number of children – running, playing or just sitting by their tents. When I mention this to the local camp administrator, he tells me that almost all the Syrian refugee families that have been registered here are young; no family members are over 50.
The camp that’s been set up in the northern Iraqi governorate of Dohuk currently has 500 Syrian families living on site and can accommodate 500 more, if needed. About 2,000 people live in the section of the camp allocated for families, and, according to the local camp administrator, 40 per cent of those registered are under 14 years old.
Catching up at summer school
While the younger children play on the slides and swings provided by the local camp administration, it is the slightly older boys and girls who miss structured activity.
Hassan, a 14-year-old boy, stood outside his family’s tent with his younger sister and brother, 11 and 9, watching the younger kids play football. They have been in the camp for almost a month. Hassan tells me that they don’t have much to do most of the day. When I ask about school, Hassan’s sister Eveen says she would like to go back to school soon.
Recently, the local Department of Education, with assistance from UNHCR and UNICEF, started a summer school to help the children make up for lost time. Almost 150 boys and girls are registered in this school. But with the new academic year quickly approaching, a shortage in space is anticipated for almost 500 children who have already been registered to join the regular school.
Later, when I visit the nearby UNICEF-supported Child Friendly Space (CFS), I meet Perween Abdulaziz, a social worker who works with the NGO Agency for Technical Cooperation and Development (ACTED) and runs the CFS. Ms. Abdulaziz tells me that, while some of the children have seen violence, most of the children’s fears come from hearing their parents talk about an uncertain future. The structure and activities provided to them through the school and CFS are essential to bring back some sense of stability to their lives, she tells me.
Shortage of classrooms
I also meet Adnan, a 13-year-old boy in a spotless white shirt and with a serious look in his eyes. We talk about how his day revolves around the summer school and how he looks forward to the new school year. “I study a little bit more when I go back home, too,” he tells me, “and only then I go out to play.” His heart-warming determination to keep doing well in school, even when going through difficult times, deserves our respect and encouragement.
While seven pre-fabricated classrooms have been provided by UNICEF and UNHCR, at least seven more are needed to ensure that none of the school-age children currently in the refugee camp are deprived of their basic right to education and to help them achieve their full potential once this difficult time of their lives is behind them.
The local authorities, with assistance from the UN agencies, are doing their best to provide access to quality schooling to the children of Syrian refugees in the camp. More funds are needed, however, to meet the education needs of the growing number of Syrian refugee children.