Two weeks ago we received an urgent request from Wakil Karimi, director of Star of Knowledge (SKO), one of our partners in Afghanistan. The country is facing one of the largest refugee crises in the world, and thousands of displaced refugee children may miss out on years of schooling if we don’t act fast.
The crisis is intensifying as Afghan citizens, some who fled to Pakistan decades earlier, are streaming back across the border with their families, under pressure from the Pakistani government. They can’t return to the homes they left due to violence and lack of resources, so they are settling in already over-crowded camps surrounding eastern Afghan cities like Jalalabad. Few resources for food and shelter exist, let alone education and the children are in danger of being left behind.
Wakil is determined to provide access to education for these children, and he has requested funds to create additional classrooms at existing CAI-supported schools using tents. Along with materials to create these additional classrooms, he requested funds for school supplies and additional teachers. Many of the children coming to the camps were attending school before they left Pakistan, and it’s imperative they don’t miss out on education, because if they don’t start now they are unlikely to ever return.
Afghanistan’s Refugee Children in Crisis
Afghanistan’s refugee crisis may not have gained much media attention, but 1.5 to 2 million refugees living along the boarder in Pakistan are facing increased pressure to return to Afghanistan amid deteriorating relations between the two countries. Human Rights Watch is calling it “the world’s largest unlawful mass forced return of refugees in recent times.” What’s worse, over half of the returning refugee children will lose access to education.
For the past 40 years Pakistan has welcomed these refugees, who have mostly been displaced by war. Starting in 1979 with the Soviet invasion and occupation of Afghanistan and followed by the rise and fall of the Taliban from 1996 through 2001, it’s estimated that 2 million refugees, both registered and unregistered, are living in Pakistan. With tensions rising between the two countries and increased harassment of refugees by police, these twice displaced people are flooding back over the boarder with nowhere to go. Many are joining existing camps around Jalalabad and Kabul, stretching the capacity of these already stressed areas.
According to a 2015 study by the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) refugee children are five times more likely to be out of school than non-refugee children. This is stark news for refugees in a country where 40 percent of its children are already out of school. When these children are denied access to education, they are at a higher risk for dangerous jobs, recruitment into militant groups, and early child marriage and teen pregnancy for girls. Along with a path to a new future, schools provide children a safe place to go during the day.
Expanding Education for Refugee Children
Last year CAI and SKO made an appeal to our followers to supply close to 5,000 returned refugee children with tent schools, school materials, and funding to operate during the 2017 school year. These schools in Nanagrahar province ensure that children returning from Pakistan can continue their schooling.
Additional tents were supplied to three schools in some of the most over-crowded areas outside of Jalalabad. With tents for classrooms, plastic chairs to sit on, new white boards, and backpacks full of school supplies, these mostly primary school aged children will be ready to continue learning.
However, these newly expanded schools are already under strain of even more children resettling in these refugee camps. Wakil worries these new arrivals and scores of children after them, will watch from outside the school tents, as the opportunity for education passes them by.
He’s acting fast in anticipation of the next wave of internally displaced people returning to Afghanistan without a home. By providing these children with education, Wakil is hoping to help this next generation become leaders and help change the future of Afghanistan.
The UNHCF report on educating refugee put it best, “By educating tomorrow’s leaders, be they engineers, poets, doctors, scientists, philosophers or computer programmers, we are giving refugees the intellectual tools to shape the future of their own countries from the day they return home, or to contribute meaningfully to the countries that offer them shelter, protection and a vision of a future.”
CAI is dedicated to doing everything we can to ensure these children have the opportunities to pursue their dreams and bring peace and prosperity to Afghanistan. Stay tuned for updated details on the emergency school projects and ways you can help.