The closure of self-governed schools for Afghan children continues
Wednesday, Aban 15, 1387 (November 11, 2008)
Pursuant to the policies of the government of the Islamic Republic of Iran on returning illegal Afghan immigrants to their own country, the closure of self-governed schools for Afghan children continues without any delays. Afghani social activists involved in education of these children, on condition of anonymity because their work is illegal, report that since the beginning of this year two schools in Tehran and three schools in Varamin are closed. According to other unofficial reports, 40 self-governed schools were operating throughout Iran, of which only 11 continue today and the rest are shut down. Yet, Colonel Mehdi Ahmadi, Director of Communications for the Greater Tehran Police Force, did not report accurate data on the closed schools. Since 1383 (2004) when government policy was formulated to prevent the entry of Afghan citizens, those Afghan children who enter Iran illegally, are denied an education in official schools; some of them attend self-governed schools that are convened in basements or other places that do not meet educational standards. Often these schools lack adequate lighting and ventilation, and in most of them more than 200 students attend school in two shifts in a space of 60-70 square meters with minimum educational tools and supplies. According to Seyed Taghi Ghaemi, Director General for Immigrants and Foreign Nationals Affairs of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, in an interview with this reporter, “the education that these children receive is not standard, and at times, it has been observed, that the teaching to these children parallels the teachings of Taliban, so that upon their return to Afghanistan they can join those forces”. Since these children and their families are illegal immigrants and do not posses any residency documents, the government of Iran prevents their registration at local schools. Preventing the education of these children has resulted in some reactions; however, it should not be dismissed that no country in the world permits residency and education of illegal immigrants, and Iran is not an exception in this regard. The most important reason that the Director General for Immigrants and Foreign Nationals Affairs of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs cites in this respect is that “if we allow these illegal immigrants to attend school, a new large wave of Afghan refugees will head for Iran as they would think that our policies on illegal immigration have changed, and that we have softened our stance on this issue. Whereas this is not correct and our policy stands as to prevent the illegal entry of immigrants and to encourage the return of the legal immigrants”. But return to where? In Afghanistan those who are of working age have the opportunity to work only two days per week. Unemployment rate in Afghanistan is 43% and of every 100 Afghan, 55 lives under poverty line. In all this, what happens to the child whose parents smuggled him to Iran illegally and who cannot benefit from an “education”, which is one of the most obvious and fundamental rights of any human being? Iran’s response to this concern is that it is more appropriate for the parents of these children, who created this predicament, to answer this question as the government of Iran has no responsibility towards their destiny. However, often these children have illiterate parents who can only think of the most basic human needs and feed their children, and education is not a priority in their lives. As Jabber, a 15 year old boy who is registered for the first grade in one of these underground schools says with a smirk that is so telling of Afghan men’s outlook on women, “up until last year my sister went to school and finished third grade but because she had a suitor, my father forced her into marriage. I have been coming to school since last year as my father can afford school expenses for only one of us.” They are six sisters and brothers and the father is a home construction worker paying 260,000 Tomans for rent. Based on what UNICEF reports about 60% of girls throughout Afghanistan are denied an education for a variety of reasons. Field observations indicate that most children who attend these schools belong to the poorer groups of Afghan immigrants as people who had better financial means immigrated to Europe and the United States and those with less economic means went to Iran and Pakistan. Given all this, how can it be expected that these parents think about their children’s education? They are content with this minimum that is offered through self-governed schools and find it adequate for their children to be able to read and write. It is not known when this futile cycle will end. Currently 12% of the population of Afghanistan lives in Iran. Most of these immigrants were illiterate when they arrived in Iran but right now their literacy rate is at 37%. In the academic year 85-86 (2006-2007), 199,346 Afghani children who had valid permits were enrolled in official schools in Iran.