Pakistani Refugees Seek School Places in Afghanistan
By Ahmad Shah
Influx from North Waziristan puts strain on already overburdened system.
Pakistani refugees who fled a massive counter-terrorism operation and sought sanctuary in Afghanistan this summer say tens of thousands of their children are missing out on an education.
The Pakistani army campaign in North Waziristan, launched in June, has caused large-scale displacement into neighbouring provinces of Afghanistan.
In Khost, more than 22,500 refugee families are spread among the Spera, Alisher and Tanai districts as well as the main provincial town.
The government and local residents are struggling to provide services, and Mursalin Shamir, a tribal elder from North Waziristan, said the incomers feared for their children’s future.
“Schools should be built and teachers hired for them, so that our children can avoid future disasters,” he said, adding that tens thousands of Pakistani boys and girls across Khost were in need of education.
Hedayatullah, originally from Miranshah in North Waziristan, said that instability had already disrupted their children’s education back home.
“We demand that schools are built for us so that our children have a bright future,” he said.
Harun, a school-age boy, said his early years had been ruined by conflict, and asked Afghan officials to find a way for him and other refugee children to continue their education.
“I was in grade third in Miranshah,” he said. “I went to school there, but when we came here, there was nothing. I don’t even have a book or a pen. I want to study at school.”
Provincial council officials in Khost said that they were aware of the problem and had shared their concerns with Khost governor Abdul Jabbar Naimi and other officials.
Sayed Karim Khaksar, chairman of the Khost provincial council, said President Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai had been made aware of it and had ordered the relevant ministries to tackle it.
“Over time, we will address all the problems of the refugees from North Waziristan,” Khaksar added.
Mobarez Mohammad Zadran, spokesman for the governor of Khost, said that helping the refugee families was a priority.
One camp had already been set up in the Gorboz district, 20 kilometres from Khost city, to house about 3,000 families. More than 50 teachers had been recruited to teach children there, and Zadran said that eventually they hoped to run 80 classes catering for some 2,000 pupils.
He added that the United Nations refugee agency UNHCR was planning to set up schools for a further 5,600 children and that Care International was also developing programmes for the refugees.
“We are in contact with different UN agencies. We have educational programmes for [the refugees] even though they live in various parts of Khost,” Zadran said.
Khost’s educational facilities are already over-stretched. The province currently has 344 schools employing some 6,000 teachers and catering for around 270,000 boys and 90,000 girls. However, only 152 of these schools have proper buildings. At the others, pupils are forced to learn in tents or in the open air.
Bakht Nur Bakhtiar, head of the provincial education department, said that statistics from Afghanistan’s refugee agency indicated that “we have 50,000 children between the ages of seven and 18, and they must all be enrolled in schools.”
Bakhtiar said there were also thousands of children in Khost who had been displaced from other parts of Afghanistan. The Pakistani children will have to study the Afghan educational curriculum alongside them, he added.
Ahmad Shah is a student at Khost university and an IWPR-trained reporter.