Cablegate: Qatari Organization Assisting Iraqi Refugees In

DE RUEHDO #0284/01 1000623
R 090623Z APR 08




E.O. 12958: N/A

1. (SBU) Summary: Ambassador James Foley, Senior Coordinator
for Iraqi Refugee Issues, met with the Director of Reach Out
to Asia (ROTA), Omnia Nour, March 27 in Doha. As part of his
tour of the region, Ambassador Foley intended to request
ROTA's support for UN appeals for assistance to Iraqi
refugees, primarily in Syria and Jordan. Nour surprisingly
said that ROTA has already had success in assisting Iraqi
refugees in Syria, particularly through education, and
expects to expand its program in the future. ROTA credited
its Chairperson's personal relationship with the wife of
Syrian President Asad as crucial to ROTA's success in Syria.
Foley also met with Salman Sheikh, Sheikha Mozah's Director
for Policy and Research, to discuss possible Qatari
assistance for Iraqi refugees. Sheikh thought Sheikha Mozah
might be interested in providing assistance in the area of
education, but acknowledged the difficulty of working this
issue since Qatar had no coordinated policy on foreign aid.
End Summary.

2. (SBU) ROTA, a charitable organization financed by the
Government of Qatar, is currently working in Syria for the
education of children of Iraqi refugees. ROTA, through its
connections with the governments of Qatar and Syria, reports
that it has been successful in overcoming hurdles experienced
by other international organizations. ROTA expects its
education program to reach one million students through three
pilot locations and virtual classrooms during the inaugural
school year beginning September 2008 and expects to expend at
least USD 50 million over five years, after which the
organization expects the project to be continued locally.

3. (SBU) Nour noted that, regarding Iraqi refugees, the
organization has been concentrating on those that had settled
in Syria, primarily because of the "good political situation"
between the two countries. Initially, when ROTA inquired
about working in Syria, the Syrian Arab Republic Government
(SARG) requested USD 14 million that would be used to rebuild
20 Syrian schools. Upon closer inspection, however, ROTA
officials noted that the USD 14 million would be used to fund
an existing five-year education plan that did not include the
education of Iraqi refugees.

4. (SBU) Instead, ROTA embarked on a plan to use community
centers as schools and to expand the coverage of those
schools by using virtual classrooms, with the intent to reach
as many as one million students. An integral part of the
plan was to hire both Syrian and Iraqi teachers, since Iraqi
teachers could not be hired by Syrian schools and because the
Iraqi parents would feel more compelled to send their
children to schools with Iraqi teachers. Nour told
Ambassador Foley this was also meant to circumvent the
current practice, whereby parents would receive assistance
from UNHCR when their children were enrolled in school, but
then would disenroll them and have them work for the family
once the aid was received. As additional incentives to keep
the Iraqi students in school, the organization plans to
support Iraqi families with take-home food rations and will
also include Iraqis in a project to help Syrian small
business owners and farmers market their products. ROTA
reached an agreement with the SARG in January for the
project, after more than six months of negotiation.

5. (SBU) Nour told Ambassador Foley that UNHCR did not
welcome the organization's presence in Syria at first. In
order to show their capability to UNHCR, ROTA started its
operation in Syria by successfully assisting 25 Palestinian
refugee students from Iraq needing health care. These
efforts were also assisted by the warm bilateral relations
between Qatar and Syria, as well as "the personal
relationship between ROTA's Chairperson (Sheikha Mayassa bint
Hamad Al-Thani - the daughter of the Amir) and the First Lady
of Syria (Asma Akhras Al-Asad)."

6. (SBU) According to Nour, the school project will start
with three pilot community centers outside of Damascus, near
concentrations of Iraqi refugees. The project is planned to
begin by September to coincide with the beginning of the
school year. Including the use of virtual classrooms, the
pilot schools are expected to reach one million students,
both Iraqi and Syrian. The project will be jointly funded by
the SARG and ROTA and is expected to cost at least USD 10
million per year over five years. After five years, the
project is expected to be taken over by local partners.

7. (SBU) Ambassador Foley remarked that ROTA had perhaps a
better grassroots feel for the challenges in Syria than the
international organizations, to which Nour responded, "UNHCR
has no capacity for education." In reply to Ambassador
Foley's question about what the U.S. could do to assist ROTA,

DOHA 00000284 002 OF 002

Nour said ROTA wanted to become involved inside Iraq and
asked for points of contact. ROTA views the UNHCR assessment
of needs inside of Iraq as critical to any repatriation plan
and wants to participate. Nour also encouraged continued
U.S. engagement on behalf of Iraqi refugees and displaced
persons: "Keep in touch, cooperate, work together for the
people regardless of your image. It would change your image."

8. (SBU) Comment: ROTA desires to remain engaged with the
USG on this issue and wants to be part of the repatriation
solution. Good political and personal relationships with the
SARG could make ROTA successful in areas in which the USG
and/or UNHCR have less leverage. Embassy Doha will remain in
close contact with ROTA and Embassy Damascus to keep apprised
of their progress in Syria and to assess opportunities for
cooperation with ROTA. Meanwhile, Sheikha Mozah's office,
which operates separately from both ROTA and the Qatari
Foreign Ministry, may take an interest in this issue. Their
staff is stretched thin, however, are likely to defer to ROTA
if that organization is already involved in this area.

9. (U) Ambassador Foley has cleared this cable.

© Scoop Media

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