Closure the Only Verdict Issued for Self-Governing Afghan Schools in Iran Hamshahri Newspaper

Tuesday, 6 Bahman, 1383 (January 25, 2005)

Closure the Only Verdict Issued for Self-Governing Afghani Schools in Iran — Hamshahri (newspaper). Society Page, It isn’t far, it’s around here.  In our own Tehran, tens of Afghan immigrant children look at a blackboard inside of a family mausoleum, next door to a cemetery, amid the stench of death, learn how to spell life.  They don’t mind the graves that surround their desks and pay no attention to the whiff of death emanating from the walls.  

These innocent children are pushed to the brink of society, their voices lost in the political ruckus and racist uproar…nobody hears their voices but whose presence and breaths have blown life into this morbid space. This is a family mausoleum.  Across from one of the religious shrines around Tehran. Other than a sign at the door on this building, that it belongs to the Haddadian family, there is nothing that signifies that this is a school.  But every morning Afghani children in their school uniforms come to this mausoleum and sit behind the desks that are arranged in its rooms to learn.  I enter the yard and ask for the head of school.  They point to the second floor; a dark hallway takes me to the principal’s office. It’s a dark and stuffy room, with a few bookshelves and cartons, a samovar and a few chairs.  He offers me a chair.  He is a 28-year-old man whose gray hair makes him look aged.  He refuses the interview and doesn’t allow me to take pictures.  He complains of the continuous summons and of the threats from the government to close this school, and believes that printing this report will result in nothing other that more problems for them.  Despite this, I insist, and give reassurance, first to myself and then to him that perhaps something can be done for them… He tells me that according to the Islamic Republic of Iran, their activity is illegal, since Afghan immigrants do not have any permits to establish self-governed schools.

On the other hand, currently, only those students who have residency cards have the right to go to school.  In addition, since last year they have started charging tuition, which many of these children and their families cannot afford to pay; as a result many children were denied an education. It was for this reason that these children started attending the self-governed schools that are established independently by Afghan immigrants. He expresses satisfaction about this place compared with other self- governed schools in the city and calls the situation in other schools disastrous! He says that they have to pay rent even for this minimal of a place, and since they charge so little for tuition, which students pay in installments, paying teachers’ monthly salary is very difficult.  This mausoleum has been recognized as a self-governed school since 73 (1995).  It has two floors, one basement, and four rooms: three classrooms and one office.  One of the classrooms is in the basement and this is where the graves are.  A cold and damp cellar of sorts that is separated from where the graves are by a plastic curtain…and this is to keep the cold out. This plastic wall is the border between life and death.  

On the other side, four tombstones motionless and quiet; on this side, children’s hustle and bustle that interferes with the sleep of the dead. The school operates in three shifts, with the evening shift catering to adults.  Tired day laborers sit behind school desks with their calloused hands learning to sound out their words. Self-governed Afghani school started from the time they arrived in Iran and the government left them to their own devices, despite the fact that they were not legal.  But after the provisional government was formed in Afghanistan, more limits were put on Afghan immigrants, and as a result, opportunities for children’s education were reduced, and consequently, schools were forbidden to function after 14 years of operation.  Educational strategy for the Afghan children is codified based on the overall policies of the country. Mehdi Navid Adham, Secretary General of the Education Council, told the “Iran” reporter that the decision on education of Afghani children in Iranian schools is based on the country’s overall policy on the return of Afghan people to their own country.  

Afghan citizens argue that the tuition charged is not commensurate with their income and believe that their children are denied an education. However, Adham doesn’t believe this discourse and argues that the tuition requirement is akin to a lever for their return to their own country.  He adds that this policy was developed by Iran’s Ministry of Interior in conjunction and coordination with Afghanistan government officials and the Embassy of Afghanistan.  Forcing the Afghani children to pay a tuition or opposing the continued activities of self-governed schools may well be based on an overall policy, in effect, return of Afghanis to their country, however, it does have the burden of violating the rights of children to an education.

In response to this concern, the General Manager of the Elementary Education said that the Ministry of Education has given tuition discounts to Afghani students to the degree possible so that they are not denied an education.  Hossein Riahi, the specialist for the Office of High Council on Education, points that because the self-governed schools run by Afghanis do not have a valid license, they are indeed illegal, and the diplomas that they issue are not valid.  He says that based on established education policies, initiating special schools for foreign nationals requires permits from the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Pointing to the fact that the policy was ratified in 1359 (1981) and oversees the exchange of citizens between the two countries, Riahi adds that “based on coordination between the Office for International Scientific Collaborations of the Ministry of Education and Interior Ministry, and based on the protocol for establishing schools for foreign citizens, only an Iranian citizen, after verification of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, can obtain a permit for such school.” Riahi also points that in the past, attempts for establishing these schools have been made but apparently, because of lack of support from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, they were suspended. He adds that “we didn’t receive any feedback from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs on this.” Still, it seems that the regulation that was established by the Ministry of Education was never put to action due to the ongoing politics of the country and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.  Riahi mentions that currently, foreign students in higher levels of schooling and adults have the opportunity to get an education, however, this is not possible at the elementary school level. In response to the concern that even with the establishment of private not-for-profit schools, the problem of inability of foreign nationals to pay the tuition remains, Riahi said that the main problem is not that of paying the tuition, as long as there is a permit for the establishment of these schools.  He said that the management of these schools can be different from what is customary, that for example, in self-governed schools one or a few individuals accept responsibility for finances and the operation of the school.  The establishment of Afghani schools is illegal. On this subject, the General Manager for Foreign Nationals of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs also opined that the establishment of Afghani schools in Iran do not have a legal standing and that there has never been any agreement with the Afghan government on this.  

Hosseini added that these schools, often formed in dilapidated and rundown buildings, are established by Afghani (political) parties and personalities residing in Iran without any permits from Iran or the Ministry of Education.  The Councilor to the Interior Minister continued that the self-governed Afghani schools, just like the Afghans who live in Iran illegally, are under no circumstances legal. The government of Iran has always created suitable accommodations in Iranian schools for the education of Afghanis who have residency permits, and they can get a desired high quality education with little expense.  He also stressed that the policy of the Council on Coordination of Foreign Nationals emphasizes the stoppage of the activities of such schools and the illegal residency of Afghan immigrants. The Parliament (Majles) wants the return of the Afghanistan. The Chairman of Science and Research Commission of the Majles believes that the use of educational facilities and opportunities by the Afghan students has been an expensive burden on government’s education budget. Dr. Abbaspour says that the education budget is not adequate and there should be an effort to create suitable conditions for the Afghans to return to their country; fortunately, effective measures have been taken and they can return to their country.  Abbaspour wants the government to operationalize Majles’ mandate on the return of Afghans to their own country as soon as possible; he said that after this, the remaining Afghani students would not have to pay school tuition. 

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