What are refugees?
At times, it becomes necessary for individuals, families, and some times whole communities to flee a situation that has become dangerous to their health, wellbeing, and even their lives. Often they are fleeing wars or other armed conflicts, or religious, racial, or political persecution. In the search for safety and security, they may leave their country and cross a national border to find sanctuary and protection in another country. At this point, they become refugees.
“A refugee is someone who, owning to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group, or political opinion, is outside the country of his (her) nationality, and is unable to or, owning to such fear, is unwilling to avail (himself) of the protection of that country.” - The 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees
Why are children in refugee situations challenged to access and participate in education?
Refugees, adult and children, are provided with places of safety by the host country where camps are established. Some camps remain for decades and the original refugees have children and grandchildren born in the camp. These child refugees have no access to the school system of the country from which they have fled. Some countries with refugee populations (host countries) make provisions for the education of refugee children while others do not.
How pervasive is it?
The UNHCR publication Refugee Education: a Global Review reported as follows:
Education is one of the highest priorities of refugee communities. Yet there is insufficient support to UNHCR to guarantee the right to education for refugee children and young people. The lack of high quality and protective education for refugees stands in the way of meeting Education for All goals, of achieving durable solutions, and of sustainable development and reconstruction of home and host countries.
Access to education for refugees is limited and uneven across regions and settings of displacement. Enrollment in primary school is only 76% globally and drops dramatically to 36% at secondary levels. Girls are at a particular disadvantage; in eastern Africa, only 5 girls are enrolled for every 10 boys.
Refugee education is generally of a very low quality, with indicators that measure inputs rather than outcomes. Teacher-pupil ratios average as high as 1:70 and, in many situations, teachers do not have even the ten days of training viewed as minimum. Available data indicate that many refugee children are learning very little in schools; among Eritrean refugees in Ethiopia, less than 6% of refugee children reached benchmark reading fluency by grade 4.
Examples of EAC partners who are addressing this barrier
The office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) is mandated to lead and coordinate international action to protect refugees and resolve refugee problems worldwide. Its partnership with Educate A Child is to deliver quality primary education to about 173,000 refugee children in 12 countries.
The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) provides assistance and protection to a population of some 5 million registered Palestine refugees in Gaza, West Bank, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria. The agency operates one of the largest school systems in the Middle East, with nearly 700 schools, and has been the main provider of free-of-charge basic education to Palestine refugees for over 60 years. The partnership with EAC will enroll an additional 120,000 Palestinian OOSC.