It’s a Slow Process, But the United States is Receiving Some Iraqi Refugees

By Mary Ann Zehr — February 13, 2008 1 min read
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This is my first day back in the office after spending one month in the Middle East. My visit included 10 days of reporting in Jordan on the schooling opportunities for Iraqi refugee children in that country. There’s a possibility that some of the children I interviewed—or children with similar stories—could end up in your school systems.

With the reporting and Arabic-English interpreting assistance of Yasmine Mousa, I’ve already filed several dispatches from Amman for the Web about Iraqis’ interrupted schooling. See “Jordan Opens Schools to Iraqis, But Not All Come,” “Leaving Violence Behind, 5th Grader Returns to School,” and “Iraqi Family Found Education Deteriorating.” (Update: “Back in School, Iraqi Teen Lacks Motivation to Study,” was posted Feb. 14.)

The U.S. Department of State has set a goal of receiving 12,000 Iraqi children and adults in 2008, according to a Nov. 30 article that ran in the Washington Post. That’s 12,000 out of an estimated 2.4 million Iraqis who are living outside of Iraq, in countries such as Syria and Jordan.

So far, the processing by U.S. officials of Iraqis who want to come to the United States has been slow. CBS News reported earlier this month that the Bush administration conceded it’s behind schedule in meeting the goal of receiving 12,000 in 2008. See “U.S. May Not Meet Iraqi Refugee Pledge,” published Feb. 4. The Washington Post reported in November that, as of that month, 2,350 Iraqis had arrived in the United States in 2007.

Some of the children I met in Jordan attended school only sporadically back in Iraq, particularly in Baghdad, because of a lack of security. Parents increasingly kept their children home because of frequent kidnappings of children for ransom. But many Iraqi children also missed several years of school after moving to Jordan. Most of the estimated half-million displaced Iraqis in Jordan don’t have legal residency in that country, and only this school year did the Jordanian government decide to open up public schools to Iraqis regardless of their legal status.

So if your school community receives any Iraqis this school year, it’s likely those children will have a lot of catching up to do academically, besides having to acquire English.

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