UN refugee agency looks to boost collaboration with EI

published 19 November 2015 updated 24 November 2015

As the perilous situation facing refugees continues, the United Nations’ refugee agency has turned to Education International in an effort to work together toward ensuring that all displaced children receive their right to an education.

Education International (EI)’s Executive Board reinforced its commitment to seeing that all refugee children receive their right to an education during a special session on the 18 November dedicated to the refugee crisis.

“What does it take for a seven-year-old not to go to school?” asked Ita Sheehy, from the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees(UNHCR), during her address to the Executive Board. “To be told that you smell, you are dirty. That is all it takes.”

With a single example, Sheehy, who is the senior advisor, Division of International Protection, at the UNHCR, illustrated one of the many education challenges facing the millions of children displaced because of violent conflict.

Refugee education facts and figures

Only 1 in 2 refugee children are in primary education

1 in 4 refugee adolescents are in secondary education

1 percent of refugee youth are enrolled in higher education

Having to adapt to a new language and adjust after possibly years outside of school are among the other issues affecting children and their families fleeing their homes in places like Syria and Iraq, to name only two. They are also a few examples of concerns where the UNHCR would like to work more closely with EI on, including strengthening links with education unions.

51 percent of refugees are under 18

Also of great concern is the situation of untrained or undertrained teachers educating children in refugee camps. Together, EI and the UNHCR want to make sure that teachers are adequately trained to provide children with basic quality education at the primary level.

Sheehy’s presentation came as EI is actively looking at ways of helping to support and train both refugee teachers and teachers in destination countries.

The Mediterranean refugee crisis

820,318 arrivals by sea 2015

6,000 daily sea arrivals in Greece

85 percent of arrivals from top 10 refugee-producing countries

20 percent are children

Huda Khoury, the regional coordinator for EI’s Arab Countries Sub-Regional Office, turned the focus toward Lebanon, which has welcomed more than two million refugees from Syria, of which 450 thousand are school age children who have entered the education system.

The major influx of students nearly doubles the 275 thousand Lebanese children already in school. The situation has led to teachers agreeing to work double shifts in order to accommodate the larger classes. Khoury said that the increase is also overtaxing what is already an under-resourced public system.

The support for increased teacher training was echoed by EI Vice President and President of the German teachers’ union GEW, Marlis Tepe. She said that the GEW is dedicated to better training its teachers to work with refugee and migrant children. “Every child refugee who comes to Germany will not wait” for a quality education, said Tepe.

Displaced people around the world

59.5 million forcibly displaced is the highest number of people of concern on record

14.4 million refugees (UNHCR)

38.2 million Internally Displaced People

3.5 million Stateless persons. Unofficially estimated to be 10 million

A resolution on education and displaced people, passed during the EI World Congress in July, vowed to continue the organisation's work in supporting member organisations’ efforts to educate refugee children, pressure governments to provide appropriate financial resources, and to work closely with its partner, the UNHCR.

The EI Executive Board also debated during its 47th meeting, held from 16-19 November in Brussels, Belgium, a discussion paper on 'Realizing the right to education of refugees and migrant children and their families'.