For refugees, education is a lifeline: World Refugee Day 2017

The ongoing conflict in Syria and the mass displacement of Syrian citizens has brought the refugee crisis to the forefront of news and conscience across every continent. The pre-conflict population of Syria was 23 million, but since the start of the conflict over 6 years ago, 5.5 million people have fled the country, with more than 6 million displaced internally. No recent conflict comes close to having displaced this many people, yet worldwide Syrians account for just over 16% of the world’s displaced population.

The UN Refugee Agency, UNHCR, estimates that 65.6 million people worldwide are currently displaced, with 22.5 million being classified as refugees. Around half the refugee population is under the age of 18, and worse still is that nearly 100,000 children who have formally sought asylum are unaccompanied and travelling alone. Figures for children alone who have yet to seek or have been unable to seek asylum are difficult to find, but to give just a small example: a Europol estimate suggest 10,000 unaccompanied children have gone missing since entering Europe.

Of the refugee population, UNHCR estimates that in 2016, fewer than 200,000 – less than 1% – have been resettled. This leaves families living in camps – in Turkey, Jordan, Lebanon, Pakistan and Ethiopia, for example – and many more homeless. For example, Turkey has almost 3 million refugees, yet fewer than 500,000 live in camps.

The task of enabling access to the right to education – not only to children but to adolescents and adults alike – to refugees and displaced persons is formidable, and it is a challenge the world is failing to meet. Only 50% of refugee children participate in primary education, and around 22% in secondary education. The reality is that education in camps – where it is provided – is often delivered by non-profit organisations, local volunteers, or teachers who are themselves refugees. For those not in camps, school places are difficult to come by, and the need for families to earn money can overtake the desire to send children to school. Although the host state has a responsibility to provide education for refugee children, the simple fact is that over 80% of the world’s refugees are hosted by developing countries: Uganda is hosting almost a million South Sudanese refugees – with an estimated 58% of them children; Chad is hosting 300,000 school-aged refugees; and Ethiopia is likely to be hosting 630,000 school-aged refugees by the end of the year.

It is estimated that emergencies and crises could add US$9 billion to the cost of education each year. The Global Campaign for Education has long advocated for a minimum of 4% of humanitarian aid to be spent on education, and it supports the calls for the Education Cannot Wait fund to be fully financed to support the delivery of education in emergencies. It is also a positive move that the Global Partnership for Education is asking countries to account for refugee populations in its national education plans. At the same time, it is critical that countries have sufficient resources to provide strong national education infrastructure – and this will take a global effort to support the increase of domestic resources, for example by supporting tax justice programmes and initiatives.

In the long-term, education is critical to building tolerance, creating safer societies, and encouraging peace. But for children and families living as refugees, or who have been forcibly displaced, education is a lifeline. While World Refugee Day provides a focus to highlight the large numbers of citizens enduring the fallout of protracted conflict, it is vital that we maintain pressure on governments at every opportunity to ensure the rights of each citizen, and the right to education for all.


Image: UNHCR

Leave a Reply