(undated photo from BEFARe)
“The teachers have been transferred to other refugee camp schools.” – Nasrullah Khan, President of the Pakistan-Afghanistan Teachers’ Association of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa
The Current Situation
During the long process of relocating Afghan refugees from the Mattani refugee camp in Peshawar, Pakistan, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNCHR) closed down a middle school attended by approximately 350 students (including approximately 100 girls), as reported by the Express Tribune, an international English-language newspaper based in Pakistan. The announcement of this action resulted in a mass protest this past September in front of the UNHCR’s nearby office. The protest was led by the Pakistan-Afghanistan Teachers’ Association of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and included many students from the school, which is almost as old as the 30-year-old camp itself, established during the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.
The UNHCR says that it is working with the Commissionerate Afghan Refugees, a Pakistani governmental organization that initially made the decision to close the school (and before that, to relocate the refugees), to figure out another option. In the meantime, students’ opportunities to continue their schooling are highly limited. The school officially closed on October 24; the relocation/repatriation has been underway since February 2014.
There were two schools in the camp — the other is still operating at the moment. (The Express Tribune articles don’t specify whether it is a primary school or a middle school.) BEFARe (an acronym for both “Basic Education for Awareness, Reforms and Empowerment” and “Basic Education for Afghan Refugees”), a German-Pakistani intergovernmental organization, runs the schools. As the name(s) indicates, BEFARe focuses on providing basic education and other services to refugees and other underprivileged communities–or, in the organization’s words, to “ensure that children have access to a rights-based, quality education that is rooted in gender equality.” This is in keeping with several goals of UNESCO‘s Education For All movement.
Education for All?
Educational options can be very limited in refugee camps. A lack of education can disadvantage children in multiple ways; access to education is thus considered an essential human right. Ideally, schools provide safety, structure, skill development (including social skills), hope for the future, and a path to eventual success.
That there was such an outpouring of support for the schools from students as well as others in the camp who attended the protest indicates how much education is valued in the Pattaya camp. The fact that the school was a middle school that offered an 8th grade education further illustrates this point: They had moved beyond primary education, in keeping with the UNHCR’s goal to “increase access to post-primary education and training,” Gender disparity seemed minimal, with around one female student for every male student–an impressive step toward gender parity in secondary education.
However, while the school may have aligned with several shared goals of the World Conference on Education for All (1990), the World Forum on Education for All (2000), and the Millennium Summit (2000), its closure reflects the difficulty of creating permanent and lasting change in unstable environments such as refugee camps. This recent event adds to the larger conversation regarding how much genuine progress is truly being made in refugee and IDP education.
Qalandar, B. (25 October 2014). Away from home: Refugee school closed down on “discriminatory grounds.” The Express Tribune. Retrieved October 27, 2014, from http://tribune.com.pk/story/781042/away-from-home-refugee-school-closed-down-on-discriminatory-grounds.
Anonymous Correspoindent. (30 September 2014). Refugee woes: Hundreds protest closure of Mattani camp school. The Express Tribune. Retrieved October 27, 2014, from http://tribune.com.pk/story/769022/refugee-woes-hundreds-protest-closure-of-mattani-camp-school/
Masters, S. & Stevenson, C. (16 February 2014). Pakistan braced for Afghan refugee crisis which could see three million cross the border in July. The Independent. Retrieved October 27, 2014, from http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/asia/pakistan-braced-for-afghan-refugee-crisis-which-could-see-three-million-cross-the-border-in-july-9131092.html.
Qalandar, B. (14 February 2014). After a 30-year stay, Afghans begin vacating Mattani refugee camp. The Express Tribune. Retrieved October 27, 2014, from http://tribune.com.pk/story/671429/after-a-30-year-stay-afghans-begin-vacating-mattani-refugee-camp/
A Basic Right for a Better Future. (n.d.), UNHCR. Retrieved October 27, 2014, from http://www.unhcr.org/pages/49c3646cda.html.