One in 122 people worldwide is either a refugee, internally displaced, or seeking asylum, says UNHCR’s annual Global Trends Report: World at War, released last Thursday. And given that 58% of all refugees are children, World Refugee Day is a time to reflect on the educational impact of emergency situations, which affect millions of children worldwide.
During times of emergency and conflict, education is the number one priority for parents, and is vital in reestablishing normality and structure for children in an otherwise unstable environment.
However, while 36% of out of school children live in conflict-affected countries, education accounts for just 2% of humanitarian aid, leaving many children unable to continue school at a time when it matters the most.
According to the UNHCR report, the number of refugees has risen to a staggering 59.5 million in 2014, an increase of over 8 million in just one year. The main reason for such a jump is the war in Syria, which saw an average of 42,500 become refugees every day last year.
The latest GMR warns that without urgent action, the crisis will lead to a lost generation, with the majority of Syrian children lacking fundamental necessities and unable to gain an education. As of December 2013, of the 4.8 million school-age Syrian children, some 2.2 million inside the country were out of school, as were half a million Syrian refugee children in Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey.
Displacement exposes children to the risk of extreme disadvantage in education, which is exacerbated by the fact that many refugees are displaced for very long periods. A UN survey shows that in refugee camps, enrollment rates average 69% for primary school and just 30% for secondary school. Pupil/teacher ratios are also very high, reaching 50:1 or more in one third of camps.
Refugees also face wider problems that harm education. Most host countries have weak education systems and limited capacity to support new populations, and many countries do not allow refugees access to public education and basic services. In the 2011 GMR Report, The Hidden Crisis: Armed conflict and education, refugees in Malaysia are not distinguished from undocumented migrants, and a long-standing refugee population from Myanmar has no entitlement to state education.
“For an age of unprecedented mass displacement, we need an unprecedented humanitarian response and a renewed global commitment to tolerance and protection for people fleeing conflict and persecution,” said UN High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres.
The GMR also highlights an urgent need to change the humanitarian aid mind-set and recognize the vital role of education during conflict-related emergencies. Adequate financing must be provided and current systems for assessing the education needs of conflict-affected communities should also be strengthened.