Suffer the children

8th April 2005 at 01:00
Be gentle when teaching traumatised Iraqi pupils, writes James Heartfield

Fifteen year-old Duua arrived in Britain two and a half years ago, after her father was killed, her mother disabled, and she was beaten and imprisoned by Iraq's secret police. Duua is just one of the 250,000 Iraqis living in Britain.

Iraqis have been coming to the UK since the 1940s, including Mothercare's founder Selim Zilkha, architect Zaha Hadid and advertising agency gurus Charles and Maurice Saatchi, but the greatest influx has been since Baath Party dictator Saddam Hussein fell out with Britain over the invasion of Kuwait in 1990.

Once the Home Office recognised the danger Iraqis were in, asylum applications rose, climbing from 540 in 1994 to 14,570 in 2002. After the 2003 war overthrew Saddam, the Home Secretary announced that it had agreed forcible deportations with the new provisional authority there.

As refugees from torture and war, many Iraqis are severely traumatised. A health survey organised by the Iraqi Community Association found that just over half have trauma-related mental health problems.

The North West community school in Paddington has one of the larger concentrations of Iraqi students in London, and the school gives additional support, as well as boasting excellent pass rates in Arabic language examinations. Sadly, the school, being split across three sites, has many problems and Westminster are planning to close it in 2006 to make way for two new academies.

The Baath regime did make schooling free up to 18 and compulsory up to 12 in its heyday, and with 200,000 teachers for four million students the results ought to be good. But according to Ronan Kavanagh, who is helping Iraqi children as the English as an additional language co-ordinator at Parliament Hill school in Camden, north London, those opposed to the regime were also discriminated against in schooling.

For Duua, coming from Najaf, the centre of the early fighting, the war was a weird time. Fellow students bunked off to protest (or just to get out of lessons), but she was withdrawn. It is a difficult time now for many Iraqi children.

TIPS FOR TEACHERS

* Many Iraqis are recent arrivals from a land scarred by poverty, war and repression: pupils might be traumatised. They may feel withdrawn and be cautious about making friends.

* Students might need support in Arabic if they have no English. Most will want to learn English.

* Students and teachers have strong opinions about the war and the situation in Iraq. So do refugees, but they are just as varied, so do not assume anything. And do not assume that Iraqi students want to talk about it, either.

RESOURCES

* The Iraqi Community Organisation is in Hammersmith. 241 King Street, London W6 9LP. Telephone: 020 8741 5491; www.iraqicommunity.org

* Al Hoda Bookshop has a wide selection of books in Arabic and on the Middle East, 76-78 Charing Cross Road, London WC2H OBB

* As does Al Saqi Bookshop, 26 Westbourne Grove, London W2 5RH. Telephone: 020 7229 8534; www.alsaqibookshop.com

* The Refugee Council has booklets - Arabic Words for School Use, Science Words for School Use and Maths Words for School Use; as well as Arabic Folk Stories from Algeria and Iraq. 240-250 Ferndale Road, London SW9 8BB.

Telephone: 020 7346 6700; www.refugeecouncil.org.ukpublicationspub006.htm; www.mantralingua.com has a CD of stories for younger children in Arabic and English USEFUL WORDS AND PHRASES

English - Arabic

Hello - Salaam

Thanks - Shukran

Goodbye - Ma as-salamaah

How are you? - (m) Kif haalak?

How are you? - (f) Kif haalik?

What's your name? - (m) Maa!ismak?

What's your name? - (f) Maa!ismik?

My name is... - Ismi...

I don't understand - Ma afham...

Do you speak English? - Hal tatakalam inglizi?

(Thanks to Ronan Kavanagh)

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