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Refugee children from Afghanistan, Iran and Iraq in Turkey take part in a four-month pilot school preparation course in order to learn the language skills necessary to enter the Turkish school system. (Zerene Haddad/Jesuit Refugee Service)

(Kirrikale, Turkey) December 26, 2013 — Most refugees in Turkey do not see a future for themselves there; rather, they long for resettlement to a third country, mostly to the U.S. Likewise, the Turkish state takes a similar view. Although refugees are granted temporary asylum-seeker status, Turkey does not recognize refugees emanating from outside Europe. However, with substantial pressure to establish a comprehensive asylum law in Turkey and massive increases in refugee arrivals, local integration seems to be the only viable option.

Until recently, refugees living in Turkey expressed little enthusiasm in learning Turkish. Jesuit Refugee Service responded to these perceived needs by offering English classes. Once refugees were resettled, life would be easier. But with the hope of resettlement rapidly fading, the demand for Turkish language classes has risen.

The request for educational support came from the families themselves, mainly newcomers who found their lives very difficult without basic knowledge of Turkish. So, last March JRS began offering Turkish language classes as part of an educational program to support refugees residing in Kirikkale in central Turkey. While JRS still offers 160-hour courses in English, it also offers adult refugees 180 hours of Turkish.

Most of the students attending language courses are adults, but many refugees are anxious that their children continue with their education. For many refugees who have made the harsh journey to Turkey, educating their children was a primary reason they came here.

"The good thing about living in Turkey is that my kids can go to school and for that we are so thankful. Unfortunately, my eldest son can't go to school because of our financial difficulties he has to work to cover some of our expenses, especially electricity, water and the rent," says Myriam*, a single mother from Afghanistan.

In addition to the language classes JRS offers in Kirikkale to refugees from Iran, Afghanistan and Iraq, a four-month pilot school preparation course was also implemented for children. The pilot consisted of 12 children, between 10 and 12 years of age, whose families were registered with the UN refugee agency (UNHCR). The course, designed in partnership with the national education ministry and a local school, provided the facilities and teachers.

"Four days a week, for four hours in the afternoon, the children attended class once Turkish pupils had left the school. The Ministry of National Education provided all the necessary text books; lunch and school kits were provided by in-kind donations from JRS supporters," said Agata Kawicka, Assistant Director of JRS Turkey.

"The aim of the course was to equip the children with a sufficient level of Turkish to allow them to enter into the public education system. Nine out of the 12 children are now enrolled in public schools. It's been a very positive project, and the children adapted very quickly."

Upon completion of the course, the children were awarded certificates accredited by the Turkish government.

In light of the overall decrease in resettlement rates, JRS in the Middle East is now looking at ways of helping refugees better integrate into their host countries. An essential component of local integration is to ensure refugee children have access to education, and are holistically provided with the means or skills to become active contributors to their new communities.

by Zerene Haddad, JRS Middle East and North Africa Communications Officer

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