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Angelina Jolie and Iraqi Refugee Children

By Mary Ann Zehr — April 09, 2008 2 min read
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The actress and refugee advocate Angelina Jolie was in town yesterday to call for more support for the education of Iraqi children. She said that the United States and international community need to make it a higher priority to ensure that Iraqi children and children in other war-torn countries get an education. See “Angelina Jolie Highlights Iraqi Students’ Plight,” which was posted today at www.edweek.org.

Ms. Jolie also cited some recent figures for the rate that the United States is accepting Iraqi refugees and urged the U.S. to pick up the pace of admitting people who have fled the Iraq war. She said the United States took in 375 Iraqi refugees in January, 444 in February, and 751 in March. While she said that it’s good that the rate of acceptance is increasing slightly each month, the United States is still 9,000 short of reaching its stated goal of admitting 12,000 Iraqi refugees in fiscal 2008 (which runs from Oct. 1, 2007, to Sept. 30, 2008).

In February, officials from the U.S. State Department told me that the count of Iraqi war refugees received by the United States had reached 3,040 so far, as of the end of January. Meanwhile, other Western countries, such as Sweden, have accepted many more refugees from the war than has the United States (but the situation is complicated in Sweden, too, according to a March 25 National Public Radio report, “Sweden Begins Sending Iraqi Refugees Home”). For an in-depth analysis of why the U.S. acceptance rate has been so low, see “The Iraqi Refugee Crisis: the Need for Action,” a report released this year by the Migration Policy Institute.

I note all of this in my blog because some educators are serving children who have fled the Iraq war, and more of you may soon be in the same boat.

Barbara Gottschalk, an English-as-a-second-language teacher at Warren Consolidated Schools in Sterling Heights, Mich., told me, for instance, that her school district has received a few Iraqi families who had fled to Turkey and Jordan. The Iraqi children who came to the United States via Turkey received some schooling after leaving Iraq, she said. Not so of the Iraqi girl she is teaching who came via Jordan. While the girl has been placed in the 5th grade this school year, she had not been in school since she left 1st grade in Iraq, Ms. Gottschalk said. “She could barely hold up a pencil,” said Ms. Gottschalk.

For more on what to expect regarding the schooling of Iraqi children, see the March 5 article I wrote about Iraqi refugee children in Jordan—“The Lost Years: Iraqi Students in Jordan.” A reporter from Mother Jones on-line also picked up on the topic of the education of Iraqi schoolchildren in an interview with me published in March, “The Militias in the Middle Eastern Classrooms.”

A version of this news article first appeared in the Learning the Language blog.