UK & World News

  • 26 August 2014, 4:01

Pupils Fears For Iraq Exchange Trip Friends

A group of former pupils who travelled to Iraq on a school exchange trip have told Sky News they fear for the safety of the friends they made there.

Six students aged 16-18 along with three teachers from King Edward VI School in Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk, went to the Kurdistan region as part of a leadership project in 2012.

Theirs was the first British school to take students to that part of the Middle East.

At the time the area was considered safe but it has since come under threat from Islamic State (IS) militants.

Joe Easdown said he and the other students keep in regular contact with the people they met.

He said: "We're still speaking to them and they're letting us know that they're currently, for the most part, OK but they're scared."

James Sturgeon told us the group hopes the conflict in the region comes to an end as soon as possible.

"They're normal people just like us and I think people tend to forget that, that just because they're on the other side of the world that they are totally different to us but they're not.

King Edward VI School had planned another visit to Iraq that was due to leave this summer with a new group of pupils, including two female student ambassadors.

Five other UK schools were also set to go.

However, the trips had to be cancelled because of the trouble in the region and consequent travel restrictions.

Girls did not make the journey in 2012 after the school took advice to only take male students because of uncertainty over the perception of women there.

But headteacher Geoff Barton said they found the women there are just as empowered as those in the West.

He hoped this year's planned trip would have sent out a specific powerful message.

"This time we were taking girls, because in Kurdistan girls are just like girls here," he said.

"They competed in sporting events against the boys over there and we wanted to show that we were going to take girls across.

"Just before that was going to happen, two weeks before, it became clear that events were looking pretty grim.

"The advice was don't go and that was wise advice, but of course saddening as well."

The school worked with the British Council on the project using 5m of EU funding which would have come to an end this year.

Mark Moulding, from the British Council, said it was hard to predict whether the programme would be able to be repeated.

"We know that some of these fantastic UK schools that have been involved in it are definitely staying in touch with their partners in Iraq, across the whole country at the moment.

"I think they're watching very anxiously on the news to see what's happening and staying in touch with their contacts there to follow the situation."

The teachers at King Edward VI say they will continue to drive the project forward.