Mustafa Abdullah [L], a 5th-grader student displaced to the Kurdish city of Halabja study with his sister in a rented home. Their father, a teacher with Master's degree is on strike over unpaid salaries. Photo: Rudaw video
HALABJA, Kurdistan Region – Contract teachers who have been hired to teach Iraqi displaced students in the Kurdish city of Halabja have gone on strike over delayed payments causing a halt to the school year just before the final exams.
There are currently 700 students who have continued their study in Halabja, some 280 km southeast of Erbil. Their families were displaced by the war between the Iraqi Security Forces and the ISIS group.
Two schools in Halabja provide primary and high school education for the displaced students, staffed with 22 contract and 4 full-time teachers.
The teachers, themselves displaced, claim they have not received their salaries for the last two years, creating financial difficulties for their families.
Abdullah Hadi, an Arab teacher from Mosul who holds a Master's degree, is now working in a sweet shop in Halabja, for a mere 5,000 Iraqi dinars ($4) a day.
He says he is not going back to teach unless the government pays his delayed salaries.
“We have families who have expenses,” he said, “We live in rented homes and we need to pay for that. If we did not have money, what else can we do? We should do whatever job we are offered.”
Hadi’s strike though affects his own children as well, his 5th-grader Mustafa and 6th-grader Ghasulban.
“Psychologically I am not well,” Mustafa said, as he showed his exam papers all marked with high marks, “It is difficult for me to easily let our future and studies go. I am very clever and have never allowed anyone to get grades higher than me.”
The family comes from Mosul where the Iraqi forces, backed by the US-led anti-ISIS global coalition, launched an offensive last October to recapture the city from the extremist group, during which many buildings and the city’s infrastructure have been destroyed.
Ghasulban says her studies in Kurdistan may pay off in the future and help her and other students to rebuild the city after their return. But she remains worried that the teachers’ strike may negatively affect their future.
“Our city has been destroyed,” she said, “We have come [to Halabja] to build our future. If our school gets closed, we cannot build our future.”
The Iraqi central government is responsible for providing education to the displaced children and paying the teaching staff.
The Kurdish authorities on their part have helped with providing some facilities and buildings.
Iman Haidar, a government official in charge of the Baghdad-funded education for the displaced in Halabja and Sulaimani told Rudaw that they are aware of the school closure.
Haidar said that she and her counterpart in Erbil have been invited to Baghdad to help resolve the issue, suggesting that the issue of unpaid salaries of contractors is not confined to Halabja alone.
She said that their planned visit to the Iraqi capital is to seek the release of the funds so that they can resume their studies in this critical time as the students are getting prepared to take their final exams.
As of May 2015, more than 720 displaced Arab families resided in Halabja. The majority come from the Sunni-populated provinces of Anbar, Salahaddin, Mosul and Diyala.
The number has now decreased to about 600 families.