Currently it is estimated that there are between 250,000 and 500,000 displaced people in the Dohuk province in the semi-autonomous region of Iraqi Kurdistan. Many of these families and individuals have taken shelter on building sites and in schools that were until recently, not in use, due to school holidays.
And it is hard to know how many schools are occupied As Iraqi Kurdish media organization, Rudaw, reported recently, “there are conflicting reports on the number of occupied schools. The [Iraqi Kurdish] Ministry of Education reported over 700 schools are occupied, more than 640 of them in Dohuk province alone. UNICEF reported that half [of Iraqi Kurdistan’s] schools are occupied. The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA) reported that 2,000 schools throughout Iraq are occupied, but did not specify how many of them are in the Kurdistan region”.
Clearly it is a problem – especially as the school year officially started this month and many of the schools should be in use again. But as the director of education in Dohuk, Abed Yousef, points out, the refugees are still living in the classrooms. “The school year was supposed to start on September 20,” Yousef says, “but it’s been postponed because many schools are occupied by displaced people. If camps are not constructed quickly, students will not be able to go to school at all this year.”
Dohuk’s governor Ferhad al-Atroshi has already said that the council is working on building more camps for the displaced and refugees so that the schools can be emptied; all of these were expected to be ready by mid-November.
However these kinds of promises haven’t made local people any happier.
"Most of the students in the region have started to go to schools but our children are still waiting for the displaced people to be evacuated from their schools,” complains a father of four who wanted only to be known as Jamil. “The government should address this problem because it is causing anger, distress and anxiety among local people. We are afraid our children are going to lose their whole school year if things don’t improve soon.”
“These school buildings should be evacuated,” says another local father of three, Abu Hamdareen, before pointing out one of the other things that’s annoying Dohuk’s people: “the local government did not exactly shelter the refugees in private schools where the sons of officials and rich people study. Instead it put them in all the public schools where the children of the middle class and lower income families study.”
Of course, not everyone feels this way. “Postponing the school year is nothing new,” notes youth activist Shirzad Birmosa. “Many countries have resorted to this in times of crisis or disaster. And the state should consider the humanitarian aspect of this first: these displaced people have no other place to go and many have lost everything."