updated 8/28/2007 10:42:38 PM ET 2007-08-29T02:42:38

The top U.S. envoy on refugees announced Tuesday that the United States will increase its support to countries hosting Iraqi refugees with a $30 million grant for education.

Assistant Secretary of State Ellen Sauerbrey said the money will help pay for schooling in countries like Jordan, where tens of thousands of young Iraqis recently began attending government schools.

Jordan and Syria host the largest percentage of the more than 2 million Iraqis who have been displaced by the war and they have complained of the increasing burden on their health and education systems. Smaller numbers of Iraqis have fled to Lebanon, Egypt and Turkey.

“I am convinced that educating Iraqi children is one of the most critical ingredients for a peaceful and prosperous Iraq and a stable region,” Sauerbrey said while visiting a girls school in Amman where 145 Iraqis began classes this month.

The grant will go toward a recent joint appeal by the U.N. refugee agency and UNICEF for international donors to provide $129 million that would pay for educating 155,000 Iraqi children in Jordan, Syria, Egypt and Lebanon.

In Damascus, the German development minister, Heidemarie Wieczorek-Zeul, announced that her government would give $5.4 million to help Syria cope with the Iraqi refugees it hosts.

U.S. criticized for lack of refugees
This month, more than 40,000 Iraqi children went to school in Jordan for the first time since they fled their homeland, amid concerns about the system being overburdened. Education Minister Khaled Touqan said more classrooms and possibly new schools would be needed.

In the past, Iraqi children could attend Jordanian public schools only if a family had a residency permit or paid fees — a serious strain on the finances of the largely unemployed Iraqi refugees.

“When traveling in the region this spring, I was alarmed that so many Iraqi children were unable to attend school,” Sauerbrey said. “This is a major problem for these children and for the future of Iraq.”

Later, Sauerbrey told reporters the United States expected to allow in some 2,000 Iraqi refugees by the end of September, but ruled out taking in large numbers.

While Washington has a “moral obligation” to aid refugees “in danger because of their affiliation with U.S. forces,” she said it also had an obligation to “provide the assistance necessary to help people continue to be in the region for when the day comes that Iraq is a stable country and people will have a home to return to.”

The United States has been criticized by some people for accepting so few Iraqi refugees. Only 57 settled in the U.S. last month, bringing the total over the last year to 190. This month it expects to take in 400 Iraqis.

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