Imagine this: you are no longer safe in your home country because of conflict, violence or persecution. You gather your family and cross the border into a neighboring country that offers you international protection.
Perhaps you saw this coming and had the foresight to gather the documents necessary to prove who you and your family are, and what your achievements and qualifications have been so far. Perhaps you didn’t have the luxury of time. Among the things that you have left behind: your home, your livelihood, extended family and friends, your access to social services including school, your sense of belonging.
In the host country, the government or UNHCR provides you with the “basics”: a place to shelter, access to water and sanitation, emergency health services, food. As soon as you have those, the missing basics become apparent: your children’s education is among these. If you are still pursuing studies yourself, perhaps this includes your education also.
Education as a basic need for refugees
Education cannot be handed out at a distribution center. Education has to be planned, coordinated, budgeted, implemented, monitored and certified for transferability. In crisis contexts, it needs to take into account the social and emotional issues that affect learning for displaced students and their hosts.
In rural communities especially, it needs to take into account that both host and displaced students and teachers might not understand or regularly use languages of instruction like Arabic, English, French or Portuguese. It needs to take into account that missed years of education or no previous access to education require accelerated, remedial or other adapted programming. It needs to notice and address learning needs of disabled students, which are compounded in displacement.
The international community cannot ignore the growing refugee challenge
There is increased recognition that the international community needs to more effectively and strategically support governments to provide education for displaced populations. The 2018 Global Compact on Refugees set an ambitious goal: that governments should be positioned to include refugee children and youth in national education systems within three months of displacement.
There has been a consistent increase in both internal and refugee displacements. Between 2005 and 2010, displacement increased by 109%. Between 2010 and 2019, it increased again by 165% to nearly 80 million people. One percent of the world’s population – or 1 in 97 people – is now forcibly displaced. Refugee displacement is also becoming increasingly protracted, which is defined as 25,000 or more refugees from the same nationality being in exile for at least five consecutive years in a given host country. UNHCR estimates that 15.7 million refugees (77%) were in a protracted situation by the end of 2019.