Reviewed by Muhammad Ilyas Khan
'Atle Hetland is a Norwegian social scientist, with over 25 years of experience in development and refugee education work in Africa and Asia, including over four years experience of working with UN organisations dealing with refugee issues in Pakistan. Not being able to let go of his memorable experience of the unique Afghan and Pakistani people, Hetland embarked on a major book project which resulted in three volumes of Learning Away from Home book series. The project became larger than initially planned for the author did not plan to write three books, ‘But now I am through with my job’, says Hetland.
The ‘Expanded Volume’ of the series describes and analyses refugee issues, emphasising on education with a special focus on the Basic Education for Awareness, Reform and Empowerment (BEFARe) project in Peshawar. The 93-page ‘Introduction Volume’, on the other hand, gives a summary of key issues prevailing in that area. It introduces the readers to the project’s key partners and donors and gives profiles of some refugee pupils, teachers, and other stakeholders. Most of the data has been extracted from refugee camps and villages near Peshawar and Quetta.
After the launch of the book, the author also visited several universities and NGOs all around the country to introduce the book and the many issues it explores. Heltand maintains that young people are always interested in issues related to refugees who have to go through voluntary or forced migration, including human trafficking and smuggling.
Readers are given glimpses of the efforts made and problems solved in the day to day lives of the refugees. Although Hetland commends the work done by the government and people of Pakistan, as well as UNHCR and its partners, he repeatedly says that ‘we didn’t do enough’, and, ‘we should not reduce aid to education and skills training when repatriation begins; we should increase the help at the time of repatriation, in the host country and the home country’.
Hetland documents that research from other countries shows that education is a key tool in repatriation. It allows the returnees to be able to go home with certain competencies and skills to get employment, and education provides them with the courage and confidence to return to their homelands, which is a crucial step after being in exile for many years.
Hetland is also impressed by the good work that has been done regarding refugee education in Pakistan, but more should have been done, and more can still be done, he adds. After all, there are 2.4 million Afghan refugees registered with the government of Pakistan, and a good number may not even have been registered, and there are some who will not be able to return but seek permanent residence in Pakistan or resettlement in another country. They need education and skills so that they can look after themselves and contribute to their host country’s economy.
Hetland reminds us of our responsibility to assist the refugee-hosting areas and host communities. The international community must enhance its assistance to Pakistanis, and mixed Pakistan-Afghan communities, for many of them need such assistance.
It is also important that the Afghan authorities, with increased assistance from the international community, expand programmes for returnees. That means practical and financial assistance with housing, employment, skills training and primary and secondary education for children and youth, and better health services.
Hetland has included a special section in the annex of the ‘Expanded Volume’ about the earthquake, since refugee education and assistance have many similarities to assistance required after natural disasters like earthquakes.
Another useful annex in the book is the list of international instruments and conventions concerning the right to education. The references in the annex to selected specialists and detailed footnotes at the end of each of the 10 chapters in the book include essential details for students, researchers, teachers and others who want to continue studies of refugee education in Pakistan.
There are still many areas left to study, as Hetland underlines, and many lessons to learn for mainstream education too, in Pakistan and Afghanistan. ‘We must still remember that it is the teachers and the education authorities who are the specialists, while the rest of us should play a supportive and monitoring role,’ Hetland adds.
He hopes others will dig deeper into the many important issues in education and other refugee, returnee and refugee-hosting issues. ‘I find it important that we study the situation of the urban refugees. I have only been able to write scant stories about them, but their number was usually larger than that of camp refugees. Their history is important and we can learn lessons from it, as we can from the other refugee history. Pakistan has done well, and the Afghan refugees have also made their contributions to their own upkeep and lives, and many times even to the host country.’ Books and Authors, DAWN, Pakistan