Getting refugee education back on track

In 2018 governments around the world adopted the Global Compact for Refugees. The Compact was hailed as the foundation of a new approach by the international community to large movements of refugees, as well as to protracted refugee situations.

At its heart was the promise that communities hosting large numbers of refugees would receive more support from the international community.

This is crucial because low- and middle-income countries host 76 percent of the world’s refugees and consequently often struggle to provide basic services to refugees and the communities that host them.

Access to education is a case in point.

Having crossed an international border in search of protection, refugee children face the double jeopardy of losing their homes and the opportunity to go to school. Close to half of the world’s refugee children – 48% – are out of school and even when refugees do have access to school, the education they receive is often low quality.

This is despite the fact that refugee and displaced children consistently rank getting back to school as their top priority. Refugees know that education provides the building blocks needed to recover, to create new lives in their host countries, and to gain vital knowledge and skills to take back to their country of origin, should they have the opportunity to return.

The Global Compact recognised this and promised to “minimise the time refugee boys and girls spend out of education, ideally a maximum of three months after arrival”.

However, four years on, the vast majority of refugee children wait patiently to go to school in the countries to which they have fled.

Including refugee children in the education system of their host country is the most practical and sustainable way of turning this around.  Access to existing schools provides refugees with accredited and certified learning opportunities that can be monitored for quality and with the right support, it can offer a route to improve the national system for host community children as well.

In cases where the inclusion of refugees in the national education system isn’t possible, the international community still has an obligation to act and make alternative arrangements, through mechanisms such as Education Cannot Wait.

But a lack of resources thwarts both refugee inclusion in national systems and rapid non-formal programmes alike.

Lebanon is a case in point. The country hosts the highest number of refugees per capita worldwide including more than half a million registered school-aged refugees from Syria who face many challenges in accessing an underfunded and overstretched school system.

Despite its obvious and urgent need – the World Bank says the situation in Lebanon is “one of the most severe crisis episodes globally since the mid-19th century” – UNHCR has only received a third of the funding it has requested for its operations in Lebanon this year.

Sadly Lebanon is just one example of an all too common situation in which the world’s poorest communities are asked to host their neighbours fleeing conflict as the rest of the world looks the other way.

But another approach is possible and the Global Refugee Forum which is scheduled for December in Geneva is a key moment in charting a new course.

The Forum  provides the opportunity for States and stakeholders to announce concrete pledges and contributions, highlight progress made, share good practices and take stock of the challenges and opportunities ahead.

I was pleased to see that the UK, Germany and Canada along with various international agencies are supporting a multi stakeholder pledge on education which I will be encouraging the government of Luxembourg to join.

The pledge helpfully sets out all the commitments by refugee hosting states to support refugee education but which require external assistance to deliver.

Donors can also join the pledge by supporting one or more of the international organisations that provide educational support during humanitarian crises, such as Education Cannot Wait (ECW).

Since its inception in 2016, ECW, the UN global fund for education in emergencies and protracted crises, has reached 2.07 million refugees – 30% of the worlds’ refugee children. ECW works at speedand is well placed to help the international community to ensure that refugee children do in fact have access to school within three-months of fleeing their country of origin.

It launched its case for investment earlier this year with the aim of providing 20 million children caught up in humanitarian crises with essential educational support between now and 2026 at a cost of $1.5 billion.

It has already secured $800 million of its replenishment target which means that ensuring Education Cannot Wait is fully funded is eminently possible.

Just last month during the UN General Assembly in New York, France announced a contribution of 40 million Euro. I hope that at the last UN meeting of 2023, the Global Refugee Forum, other States – including Luxembourg – will join France and ECW’s twenty-three government, private sector and philanthropic donor and help to close the refugee education financing gap.

Across the world,  refugee-hosting countries are responding with incredible generosity, opening up their borders and national systems to vulnerable people seeking protection. Four years ago we set out a bold plan to provide them with the financing necessary to ease the pressure that hosting refugees puts on communities.

That support hasn’t materialised, but the number and severity of conflicts has increased and with them the number of refugees continues to grow.

Despite the enormity of this challenge I’m confident that it is possible to provide a quality education to every last refugee child. The Global Compact on Refugees offers a unique opportunity to realise this vision and the Global Refugee Forum is an important stepping stone in making that vision a reality.

I urge my parliamentary peers not to look away but to encourage their government to deliver on existing pledges and make new ones so that the promise we made to ease the pressure on large refugee hosting states and help ensure refugees can live with dignity, including by going to school is achieved.

Sven Clement
Sven Clement
Sven Clement is a member of the Chamber of Deputies of the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg. He was first elected in 2018 and again in 2023. He dedicates himself especially to the topics of the foreign affairs, finance, economics and the effects of digitisation and is a founding member of the International Parliamentary network for Education.