Refugee education in crisis

Sophie Carreau
18 October 2019
UNHCR, the United Nations Refugee Agency, recently released a report on the education of refugee children around the world, in which it warned of a possible “lost generation”.

Of the 7,1 million refugee children of school age, 3,7 million - more than half - do not have the opportunity to go to school, UNHCR reports. Yet, all of them are fully aware of the importance of education for their future. For example, Gift, 14 years old, fled the war in South Sudan to the Democratic Republic of Congo, where he learned French and designed his own solar-powered lamp, in order to maximize his chances of attending the classes at the primary school in Uboko.

According to Filippo Grandi, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, school is where refugees are given a second chance. Yet, only 63 % of refugee children attend primary school, this proportion drops drastically to 24 % when it comes to secondary education, and only 3 % of them will pursue higher education.

Of the 7,1 million refugee children of school age, 3,7 million - more than half - do not have the opportunity to go to school.

How to explain this significant gap?

The first explanation lies in the limited or even total lack of school facilities available for the local population, let alone for refugee children.

In addition to this, refugees are often unable to meet the conditions for school enrolment and admission: inadequate vaccinations, lost or unrecognised identification documents, poor language proficiency, etc. While some have received an “unofficial” education to keep up with their peers, this generally does not allow them to pursue higher studies.

It is also important to know that the routes from the camps - or centres for the luckiest ones - to the school gates are often very long and take them through dangerous and unsafe areas. Moreover, in these communities, freedom of movement is frequently limited.

Finally, family pressure on teenagers also plays a role. Indeed, as they grow up, many children are expected to financially support their families. In many cases, their education is considered of less importance. Girls especially are frequently disadvantaged and more likely to drop out of school because of marriage or an opportunity to earn an income.


What does UNHCR offer?

UNHCR seeks support from governments, private sectors and educational institutions for its building renovation and teacher training projects. It also intends to provide better financial support for refugee families in order to empower them to deal with their situation. Such initiatives will benefit both refugee and local children, as most situations highlighted by UNHCR concern countries with limited educational resources.  

Through education investment, young refugees will thus be able to find a job, to contribute to their communities’ well-being and to prepare themselves to be part of the current and future world.

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