Although primary education in Iran is free for Iranian citizens and documented Afghans, undocumented Afghans
- about half of the Afghans living in Iran - have not been able to send
their children to public schools and have had to search for or create educational
alternatives for them. Consequently, the Afghan community itself has begun
to fund and run Afghan private schools that admit children regardless of
their legal status.
The schools are underfinanced and overcrowded. Classes are taught in shifts, alternating girls and boys, older and younger, and making maximum use of meager faci-lities. The schools function with barely any outside support. Last winter, UNHCR provided shoes, socks, and sweaters for children sitting in the unheated classrooms. Books, paper, pencils are in short supply.
Refugee Reports visited two of the Afghan schools in Mashhad, the Hazrat Ali School and the Tarbiat-e-Eslami School. The latter, located in the impoverished Gulshahr quarter of Mashhad, operates in three shifts, providing both primary and secondary education for about 3,000 children. The school principal, an Afghan refugee, said that no funding for the school comes from the Ministry of Education, UNHCR, or international NGOs, and that funding comes entirely from tuition (which about one-third of the students can't pay) and from donations from the local Afghan community in Mashhad. The physical condition of the Tarbiat-e-Eslami School is quite poor; the children must navigate broken steps to enter their mud-walled classrooms, which are cold and dingy, in some cases lacking doors and windows.
The Hazrat Ali School is both smaller, only serving 457 pupils, and nicer. This is a hand-me-down government-run public school that was closed a year ago and turned over to the Afghans. The Afghan school inherited important educational infrastructure from the Ministry of Education, such as desks and chairs. It also lacks educational materials, however.
According to the principals of the schools, more than half of the children are undocumented and about 60 percent are Hazaras from north central Afghanistan. They teach the standard Iranian curriculum, and their schools have been accredited by the Ministry of Education.
Refugee Reports found a remarkable difference between these Afghan children and all refugee children pre-viously encountered. We asked the children in one class a series of questions, finding out, for example, that about one-quarter of the children in that classroom were "orphans," meaning that at least one parent was missing, and that all but a small handful in this group were born in Iran. The surprise came when we asked the follow-up question, where they were from. Instead of answering Herat, Hazarajat, or another location in their home country, which is the normal response of refugee children worldwide, these children kept saying they were from Iran.
In clarifying their response with the adults who were present, it became clear that these children have been trained to respond that they are Iranian for fear that they could be asked by an official if they are Afghan and found to be undocumented and deported. In some cases, children have been followed home from the Afghan schools, and their parents' homes have been raided and those present deported. In other cases, children have come home to empty houses, their parents having been apprehended while they were in school.
SOURCE: Refugee Reports, Vol. 20, No 6 (June 1999)
Copyright 1999, USCR