On 2 November, during her official visit to Iraq, UNESCO Director-General visited the Baharka Camp for Internally Displaced Persons (IDP), located near Erbil, accompanied by the Governor of Erbil, Nawzad Hadi Mawlood, and the Camp Director.
She met with a dozen students and parents, who gave her drawings of their lives now and in the past.
Mohammed, aged 4, drew a school as he imagined it. Another boy painted the flag of Iraq. A mother of five children, from near Mosul, sketched the camps, with the tents in rows. Each painting was explained to the Director-General and the feelings they evoked. One young man presented a drawing of a house being attacked and a boy planting a rose in response.
“Education is a hidden crisis and I have come to stand with you, to support you, to reject the terrible human rights violations you have suffered," said Irina Bokova.
Irina Bokova laid the first concrete block for the secondary school that will be completed by UNESCO, by December 2014 for young women and men in the camp, highlighting the importance of addressing the education crisis and UNESCO’s commitment to act.
“Education is a human rights imperative for you and for all Iraq – it is also a development imperative and a security imperative,” said the Director-General. "We cannot let you and an entire generation of young Iraqis to be deprived of their right to education, because this would throw a shadow over the future of the country as a whole.”
Irina Bokova made an appeal for greater assistance to education in Iraq, underlining that “this must stand at the heart of all peacebuilding efforts.”
Iraq is now contending with one of the largest numbers of internally displaced persons in the world. Between 1 January and 5 October 2014, IOM has identified over 1.814 million displaced people.
Baharka camp, one of the four major camps established in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq, was established on 2 August 2014 as a camp for IDPs. Before this, it had been used as a transition camp for Syrian refugees. There are 617 families (3,219 individuals) -- 1075 of them are aged between 5 to 17 years old.
Students, youth and vulnerable people, especially women, represent a high proportion of the IDPs. Youth are particularly affected by the crisis and need structures to establish a sense of normalcy, stability and hope for the future to minimize the risk of vulnerability resulting from violence, abuse or ideological manipulation. Large numbers of them were unable to attend the public examinations in June 2014 due to the ongoing crisis, and this could jeopardize their future.
In response to the IDP crisis, the Director-General noted that UNESCO is now establishing four fully-equipped secondary schools in the camps of Baharka (Governorate of Erbil), Dawodiya (Governorate of Dohouk) and Barzanja (Governorate of Sulymanihiya) and renovating 23 secondary schools in host communities in Dohouk, Erbil, Sulymanhiya, Basra, Najaf, Karbala and Baghdad.
Addressing students and teachers, Irina Bokova expressed her outrage at the violations of human rights, repression and violence that they have suffered.
"The attacks and repression by extremists are unacceptable and we must do everything to stop this, to help you return to your homes, to ensure all girls and boys get to school."
Education is essential, she said, “to the future of Iraq, to strengthen the prospects for stability, to fight extremism, to stand up for the human rights of every woman and man.”
"For this, we must ensure that you learn so you have the chance to become everything you wish."