Closure of refugee schools in Pakistan

Ockenden International is very concerned about the threat to Afghan refugee education in Pakistan.

Education is a human right and it is the responsibility of international institutions and the government of Pakistan to ensure that sufficient education opportunities exist and that children enjoy some protection.

In a recent census, just over 3 million Afghans were recorded as living in Pakistan, a higher number than previously thought. The findings of the census were intended to help Pakistan and the UN refugee agency manage the millions of Afghans who look set to remain in the country after the expiry of the tripartite agreement in March 2006 that governs the voluntary repatriation of Afghans. Under the programme, some 2.3 million Afghans are thought to have returned voluntarily to Afghanistan since 2002.

However, having completed the census it appears unhelpful to reduce expenditure for a larger than thought population. Even with existing spending levels, only half of the children of primary school age are attending, with fewer than 10% attending middle and secondary schools.

As well as concerns about human rights, one NGO worker in the area told me;

" In 1995 and 1996 there was a sharp reduction in spending on the refugee population in Pakistan, including education. The result was more and more children enrolled in religious school. In these circumstances it seems strange for the international community to refuse education to children."

Another NGO staff member said, "It now seems that water supplies are being reduced along with food rations to 'encourage' people to return home. It is cruel and inhumane".

Ockenden International is likely to have to release some 80 teachers as a result of the current cuts. We feel this is not a constructive step prior to repatriation, rather a serious impediment to future generations.

It is important for the government of Pakistan, Afghanistan and the donor community to realize that education is both a human right and a vital protection tool in the current situation. Children should be placed first. Young people without opportunities are likely to cause major problems in the future, for both Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Graham Wood Head of policy