The new UNHCR annual Global Trends figures show that there is now an unprecedented 68.5 million people around the world who have been displaced. Among them are 25.4 million refugees. These young people have extreme education needs, and expectations, which host countries must meet with the support of the international community. This is the focus of the Global Compact on Refugees process, which is expected to be completed this year. We will be laying out some concrete policy recommendations on where and how resources should be allocated in our next Report due out on the 20 November this year.
The sheer size of these new figures is equivalent to 31 new people being displaced every minute – or more people than those who live in the UK.
Education is a key part of this story because over half of refugees are under the age of 18. And, as any parent will know, they need the security, stability, and opportunity of a quality education. The latest estimate though is that at least 3.5 million refugee children and youth aged 5 to 17 were missing out on school. Could the situation worsen? As the UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi put it in an opinion piece this morning, “It is in their lives – and their shattered futures – that the most devastating consequences of war, violence and persecution play out.”
A breakdown of the refugee statistics shows that 85% of the world’s refugees are hosted by developing countries, many of which already struggle with providing a quality education.
Uganda, where a quarter of its schools do not have basic sanitation facilities and over one million young people cannot read, is nevertheless making exceptional effort to help refugees access education. In 2016, though, only six out of every ten refugee children attended primary school in the country.
In Lebanon, one in six people is now a refugee. This makes it the host of the largest number of refugees relative to its national population. UNHCR findings show just 5% of the nearly 80,000 Syrian refugees aged 15 to 18 were enrolled in secondary school. The government recently introduced new regulations allowing some Syrian youth to get temporary legal status, which will help them enroll in education.
We should also remember that most displaced people are displaced inside their country’s borders often due to conflict and violence. Colombia has the largest number of internally displaced people in the world. No wonder the peace process is at the top of voters’ minds in the impending election.
Fixing the issues faced by those uprooted by conflict and violence will need money, making large investments necessary, such as the $3.8 billion commitment made at the G7 summit in Canada for girls’ education with special reference to emergency contexts.
Political will, clearly, is also vital. This is the motive for the High Commissioner for Refugees and the Executive Director of UNICEF launching a call to action this morning, which we fully support: ‘Refugee children, whether on our doorsteps, or in remote borderlands, must be protected, sheltered and equipped for their futures. They must have an education that will arm them with the skills and confidence to rebuild their shattered lives. Our ability to make a difference in their lives — between despair and hope, and being left behind and building a future — is a test of our shared humanity.”
Faced with these overwhelming statistics and the daily media stories on refugees, the only way to understand is to hone in on individual stories. We want to hear parents, students and their teachers recount their education story for precisely this reason. Please share your experiences and help us implore policy makers for more urgent action.