Displaced people’s right to education must not be left behind

Displaced people’s right to education must not be left behind

War and displacement repeatedly torn apart people’s right to education. Overnight, families who are forced to leave their communities find their children and youth out of school. Depending on whether they cross a national border, the label of student is suddenly replaced by the label of internally displaced people or refugee. The very ‘lucky’ ones are able to go back to school within weeks or months. For millions of people living in protracted displacement in countries such as the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Burundi, Somalia, and Ethiopia, however, this is not always the case. Their right to education is often disrupted and indefinitely postponed.

The reality on the ground in these contexts suggests that governments and the international community as a whole implicitly assume that the displaced people’s right to education can wait until the humanitarian emergency is overcome. The people’s right to education however cannot wait. By putting education in waiting our societies are not only condemning displaced people to live in inter-generational poverty, but also missing their talent.

Along with these long-lasting humanitarian crises, COVID-19 is worsening the displaced people’s opportunities to enjoy their right to education. Humanitarian organisations have started to push governments for an immediate response to avoiding a humanitarian catastrophe. The pressure on governments has been increasing since international media has released the fact that over a hundred and forty refugees tested positive in only two refugee camps in the heart of Europe (Ritsona and Malakasa in Greece) and some governments have refused to proceed asylum applications from unaccompanied children [1].

Reasonably, urgent actions should be taken to secure the safety of the millions of displaced people and refugees living in either refugee camps or poorly improvised shelters. At the moment I am writing this blog, the first coronavirus case has been reported in a Palestinian refugee camp in Lebanon where as in most refugee camps, policies of washing hands and social distance cannot be observed largely because running water, soap and a separate room cannot be afforded by their occupants.

Nobody knows what the future holds for all of us but what seems crystal clear is that the pandemic must not be used as an additional excuse to leave displaced people’s right to education behind any longer. Countries must invest in the effective protection of the social rights of their citizens at any time, education included. However, they should not forget that international aid is not only a moral, but also a legal obligation under international human rights law. We should not forget for a second that migrants, displaced people and asylum seekers are human beings who deserve the same opportunities that all of us deserve. Each day children, youth and adult wait for an education opportunity is a waste of talent; the talent we need to function as a society in our everyday life and the talent we urgently need now to care for patients in hospitals and home cares because of the COVID-19 emergency.

Leaving the migrants and displaced people’s right to education behind is costing lives now and will probably cost more lives in the future if governments and the international aid community do not support them to develop their talents and skills. Governments should think twice about the talent they are missing when not processing the asylum applications of people with a wide range of skills, including doctors and nurses that are must needed now when most countries face a shortage in medical staff.

We must not forget that a migrant or a refugee can be our main source of support and even the very person who can save our lives and that any of us can be a migrant or a refugee in the future. If migrants and displaced people are welcomed in the societies they are settled and get the opportunities that all of us deserve, we will see more nurses like Jenny McGee, from Invercargill, New Zealand, and Luis Pitarma, from west London but originally from Portugal, who helped to save the UK Prime Minister’s life when he was battling against the coronavirus. There are thousands of Jenny and Luis everywhere waiting for an education opportunity now with the hope to contribute to their societies in the very near future.

Education is an open door for countless opportunities and it is in the interest of governments, international aid community and all of us to open this door to migrants and displaced people. This pandemic can be a unique opportunity to overcome the perception of migrants and displaced people as a ‘disease’ and start seeing them as part of the ‘cure’.

By Luis Eduardo Pérez Murcia

[1] See https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2020/04/greece-148-refugees-test-positive-covid-19-asymptomatic-200421134039733.html and https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/apr/12/patel-refuses-to-take-children-from-greek-camps-threatened-by-covid-19.

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