Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Afghanistan: Hope for Gypsy Education?

This article originally appeared in the Afghanistan News Service, produced by the Institute for War and Peace Reporting,

By IWPR trainee - Afghanistan

Officials in Balkh say they’re considering provision of schooling for Afghan Jogi, but community remains distrustful of the authorities.

Mohebollah, 17, a young man in Afghanistan’s Balkh province, has made numerous attempts to enrol in the schools where his friends study but has always been rebuffed.

He is a member of the country’s Jogi minority – sometimes known as gypsies and the schools say that he cannot attend without an identity card, something the Jogis have never had.

He wept as he told the story, "I now doubt whether we are human beings ... When I see other boys going to school or coming back, I cry for some moments and ask God to grant me death because I am fed up with this life."

The school age in Afghanistan is seven. If a child does not yet have an ID card, he or she can use the father’s - but that does not help. Mohebollah’s father also has no ID card. It means he is kept out of all education.

Leader of the Jogi in the Baba Yadgar area of Mazar-e-Sharif, Malek Hashmatollah, said that thousands of them live in the region, where they lack decent living conditions and earn money by begging.

"We also want our children to have a bright future, be literate and educated and have jobs in government institutions. We also want to have houses and land. How long should we beg? When we go to schools, they do not accept our children," he said.

The head of Afghanistan’s Independent Human Rights Commission in Mazar-e- Sharif, Sayed Mohammad Sameh, said that everyone has the right to education under the constitution, "If the Jogi are not Afghan nationals, then why were they given voting cards during the election and their votes were accepted as valid?"

Jogi say they migrated to Afghanistan from Bokhara, Azerbaijan and other places around 150 years ago for various reasons. They live in different parts of the country and are called different names by local people, including Jatt, Qawal and Changari.

Their numbers are unclear but Jogi say there are about 1,000 families in Balkh province alone.

Now, some officials have given indications that they are willing to address the education problem.

The director of education in Balkh province, Mohammad Zaher Penhan, said he has discussed the issue with a number of organisations and a solution was ready.
"Currently, I have a programme to provide Jogi children of 8 to 14 years old with the opportunity to study. We also plan to provide older Jogi with vocational and literacy courses in their residential areas," he said.

But it appears that little progress has been made on the issue of ID cards, so crucial to accessing education.

The director general of the statistics and census department in Balkh province, Abdolkhaleq Rostahi, said the matter was not one he could deal with.

“If the Jogi want to have ID cards, they need to have their representatives meet high-ranking government officials to obtain an order, on the basis of which we will be able to give them IDs," he said.

He said he has discussed the issue with Afghanistan’s human rights commission and the United Nations in Mazar-e-Sharif many times.

However, a Jogi leader, Sahebnazar, said they had tried to have such meetings and were not even allowed to enter government offices. "Ordinary people ignore us but the officials completely hate us. We have tried many times to meet senior officials, but they did not agree to meet us. They do not see us as human beings. We do not know where to go," he said.

Sameh of the local human rights commission said he had created a committee on the ID card problem including representatives of the UN Assistance Mission to Afghanistan and UN children’s agency UNICEF in Mazar-e-Sharif.

"We have completed surveying the Jogi in the north and the report will be published soon. We will ask the ministry of interior affairs to solve the problem of the Jogi IDs," he said.

But Amanollah, the head of the Jogi in the Kart-e Solh area of Mazar-e Sharif, said the authorities manipulate the community.

"When the elections take place or any other national issue comes up, we are Afghans, but when the government and the officials achieve their goals, they forget about us saying we are not Afghans. What kind of justice and humanity is this?" he said.

“We want the government to consider us as Afghan nationals. We want the government to give us ID cards so that our children will be able to study."

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