Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 21 October 2019

UN refugee chief touts focus on education in new approach to lasting problem

Some progress made in providing access to schooling for millions of displaced children, says Filippo Grandi

United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi addressed UNGA delegates on Monday. AP
United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi addressed UNGA delegates on Monday. AP

Efforts to provide education for refugees have been transformed by the impact of millions fleeing Syria since 2011, according to Filippo Grandi, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees.

Speaking ahead of the United Nations General Assembly meetings in New York, the commissioner highlighted the gap between education for refugees and settled citizens.

Drawing on figures compiled by the charity Save the Children, Mr Grandi said that while the picture for the world’s displaced had improved in the past decade there was still work to be done to raise enrolment rates to the worldwide average. He added that access was increasing rapidly.

“The percentage of refugee children going to school has risen from 50 per cent to 63 per cent,” he said. “The percentage of refugees going to university has also risen from one per cent to three per cent.”

According to the Save the Children report, approximately 90 per cent of world’s children are enrolled in schools.

Mr Grandi said he was issuing a call for participants to join a global convention to follow up on the 2018 adoption of the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration and Global Compact on Refugees. The two documents are intended to transform international efforts to support refugees and the displaced.

“We’re convening a global forum to showcase the good practices,” Mr Grandi said. “We’ve heard too much about how it is impossible to respond to this big population shift, and from that all the negative rhetoric like pushing them back comes.”

With the focus of this year’s UNGA on climate, Mr Grandi said the two issues could not be disentangled.

“We have been unable to make peace, we have become unable to do peace-building and now climate has a big impact and has become a big cause for displacement,” he said.

“The combination of negative factors is growing.”

Using the Syrian and Iraqi refugee exodus over the past decade as an example, Mr Grandi said that education had to become a focus of his agency and the network of groups working to help refugees. “We’re moving away from a purely humanitarian response,” he said. “You still have to give people food, shelter and medicines but the response has to be different.”

With children making up half of all the 71 million displaced people in the world, education for refugees is growing in importance, said Carolyn Miles, the US head of Save the Children.

“Displacement now averages 17-18 years, that’s a whole lifetime for those children and we really do have to provide an education for them,” she said.

The charity said it wanted to bring refugee children school rates up to the global average.

Ms Miles praised Jordan’s decision to open more than 400,000 school places for refugee children. Mr Grandi stressed the need to grant refugees access to the regular state school system in host countries to provide a more normal life for those fleeing violence and persecution.

“We must not create parallel resources for refugees; we must ensure that refugees are integated into national education system," he said.

Updated: September 23, 2019 10:34 PM

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