UN Report: Millions of refugee children don’t have access to school

With many countries in the process of figuring out how to keep refugees outside of their borders, the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), has released a report stating that approximately half of six million refugee children around the world are not attending school.

According to the report, 91 per cent of children around the world are attending school, while only 50 per cent of refugee children are. The report includes the 16.1 million refugees under the agency’s mandate, of which half are children, and six million are between the ages of five and 17. The report does not include the more than five million Palestinian refugees that fall under the mandate of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency.

“This represents a crisis for millions of refugee children,” said Filippo Grandi, UN High Commissioner for Refugees in a press release. “Refugee education is sorely neglected, when it is one of the few opportunities we have to transform and build the next generation so they can change the fortunes of the tens of millions of forcibly displaced people globally.”

The report says refugee children are five times more likely to be out of school than other children and are far less likely to achieve post secondary education. While 34 per cent of university age students make it to university, for refugees that number falls to only one per cent.

“Refugees often live in regions where governments are already struggling to educate their own children,” states the UNHCR report. “Those governments face the additional task of finding school places, trained teachers, and learning materials for tens, even hundreds, of thousands of newcomers, who often do not speak the language of instruction and have missed out on an average of three to four years of schooling.”

The report uses the current Syrian refugee crisis as an example, pointing out a 34 per cent drop in Syrian children attending school between 2009 and 2016.

While they are now technically out of harm’s way, many refugees find themselves stuck, waiting for their lives to return to ‘normal.’ Many countries that are now host to large refugee populations have not factored refugee education into overall education planning, says the report, though some are working on it.

“There is solid evidence that quality education gives children a place of safety and can also reduce child marriage, child labour, exploitative and dangerous work, and teenage pregnancy.” The report also said that education helps kids find friends, develop problem solving and critical thinking skills, as well as improving confidence and self esteem, all this while also increasing job prospects. However, the report also states that no education, however, has the opposite effect, “perpetuating cycles of conflict and yet more forced displacement.”

The report also points out the disproportionate effect that the lack of educational opportunities has on girls.

“The literacy rate for refugee girls and women in Pakistan is less than eight per cent,” said the UNHCR in a press release. In primary school, there are only eight girls enrolled for every 10 boys and in secondary, the number of girls falls to seven for every 10 boys.

The report estimates that if all girls could go to high school, child marriage could fall by two-thirds. “59 per cent fewer girls would become pregnant in sub-Saharan Africa and south and west Asia, which are among the top hosting regions for refugees.”

Educated mothers, the report states, are also better able to care for their children, being more likely to ensure drinking water is clean as well as being more likely to seek medical attention and get their children vaccinated. They are also more likely to send their own children to school.

The report calls for host countries and countries donating money to make a long term, multi-year education plan with the focus of providing consistently funded education for all refugee children. The report also asks private businesses and individual donors to “help design innovative and sustainable solutions,” for the specific needs of refugee children.

Grandi says the stories of individual refugees prove, “it is never too late to invest in refugee education, and investment in one refugee’s education means the entire community benefits.”

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