Today, Syrian refugees are being discussed across the globe- the acceptance of Syrians was a major issue in the recent presidential election here in the United States, and their struggle for education in Lebanon and in Europe have been previous blog topics. But within this discourse, Afghan refugees are in danger of being forgotten. Around one million Afghan refugees live in Iran. 1.6 million live in Pakistan. These refugees have differing story-lines; these refugees fled during the war with the United States, and some date back to the Soviet era. Afghans who have lived their entire lives in their host country, are still treated like unwanted, exploited outsiders. Education and integration seem impossible, until the government needs something.
In Iran, these Afghan refugees are suddenly being recruited into the Iranian army, in a revered division called the Fatemiyon. The government needs soldiers to fight in the Syrian civil war, and the Afghans need money and work permits, and access to education for their families. All these are promised to them. In the event of their death for Iran, their families are placed under care of the Martyr Foundation. The surviving family members are granted citizenship. Basic schooling, or access to a university education, become possible.
In Pakistan, the story is similar. In The Pakistan Observer, an opinion piece by an Islamabad lawyer that comes across more as propaganda for Pakistan, brings up an important concept. The Afghans getting scholarships are studying for engineering and medical degrees, and the Afghans who complete their education in Pakistan, go to work for companies in Pakistan or the government. The government of Pakistan has an incentive to treat these particular Afghan refugees well- it invests in their educational capital, and then reaps the rewards. With one and a half million Afghan refugees, the government is only educating refugees by the thousands, refugees that have the skills that Pakistan wants.
The Business Recorder gives an account of a statement by Chief Minister Pervez Khattak where he says that unregistered refugees are a security risk, and that no country should ever want unregistered refugees. But it’s not a discussion based on ethnic conflict. When talking about education in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, he lauds the provincial government for teaching its (Pakistani) students English, for teaching girls to where they are now doing better than boys, for training teachers. The article states that the Chief Minister said he wanted the UN to educate the Afghan refugees because “we want to make them useful citizens to serve their country in a proper manner.”
That is the crux of the matter. The Pakistani government, or the Iranian, want these refugees to be useful citizens who produce for the ruling government and play by its rules. They see education as highly important in this goal, but they are wary of simply giving it out to any refugees who might not want to become a part of the system that educated them.
For more information, look here.
Watch here to view the lives of Refugees in Iran.