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Karbala's Classrooms
Refugee Teachers Get Lucky But Refugee Students Problematic

Abbas Sarhan
Iraq's southern city of Karbala has proven to be refuge for many Iraqis fleeing violence in the north. While many of the teachers among the refugee population have been lucky enough to be able to claim their jobs…
18.09.2014  |  Karbala
Refugees heading into Karbala.
Refugees heading into Karbala.


Abbas Jawad has come to Karbala from the northern city of Mosul, which was taken over by Sunni Muslim extremists in June this year. Jawad thought that when he and his family became refugees that everything had ended for them.


“Everything has collapsed and now I find myself homeless,” he says. “I have lost everything, my house and all the efforts I made over the years.”


For ten years Jawad worked as a teacher in Tel Afar in northern Iraq and he is one of hundreds of education professionals who have ended up elsewhere in Iraq. But he is also one of the lucky ones. A few days ago he was able to start a new job at a school in Karbala based on a directive from the Iraqi Ministry of Education that says their displaced employees are entitled to their government jobs back in whichever part of Iraq they have ended up in.


Jawad has some concerns about starting anew at another school but on the whole he's happy; he will be paid and will be able to support his family and he's back doing a job he believes is important.


The teacher's union in Karbala have stated that about 500 male and female teachers from other parts of the country have submitted their papers, asking to be given jobs in Karbala.


“The teachers were sent to different schools around the area, depending on the subjects they teach,” Khaled Marei Hasan, the head of Karbala teachers' union, told NIQASH.


There are however more teachers in the area than are needed in schools that have been set up to teach the children of displaced people. So some of them have been sent to ordinary Karbala schools as well.


However this has caused some problems. Many of the displaced teachers are Shiite Muslim by sect and Turkmen by ethnicity – so they don't all speak Arabic very well. They speak the Turkmen language.

“We can handle the language problem though,” says another teacher from one of the villages around Mosul, Khalid Ahmad. “We can get the students understanding the science lessons – after all, they are doing the same curriculum we are. I actually think the main problem will be for the refugee children who have to go to schools where they will be learning in Arabic.”

In cooperation with international organisations like the Red Cross, five new schools have been opened in the Karbala area to cater to children of refugees.


“The education department in Karbala is well aware of these problems which is why we have made it a priority to appoint displaced teachers at these new schools,” says Ahmad Duhaib, the department's spokesperson.


Unfortunately the five schools won't be enough to accommodate all of the children of internally displaced families, so many others will be joining already crowded classrooms in Karbala's existing schools.


Ali Qasim is another teacher from Mosul but so far, he hasn't been as fortunate as Jawad. He and his family are living in a hostel attached to a Karbala mosque.


The hostel, on the road between Karbala and Najaf, was built to shelter pilgrims who came on foot for religious occasions in Karbala, which is home to some of the most important sites in the world for Muslims.


Usually the pilgrims would spend just one night here, they would be fed and be given a bed for the night, and then they would continue on their way into Karbala. However over the past few months, these kinds of hostels have been used by the thousands of internally displaced families in Iraq who have ended up in the comparatively safe southern city.


“But it's just not suitable for a family here,” Qasim says. “There are no services here because the road is isolated and there is no privacy for the residents. There are also a lot of dangerous creatures here – like scorpions and snakes – because the places are usually empty for so much of the year.”


As soon as he gets a job as a teacher again, Qasim says he will find a house for his family to rent.