UNHCR just released the 2020 Education Report, and the findings are striking: 48% of all refugee children remain out of school.
This is not just about school closures due to the pandemic, although those have been devastating for refugee children too, it is about the fact that refugee children were already twice as likely to be out of school as non-refugee children.
Refugee artisans pictured with their children in Mahama Refugee Camp, Rwanda. Refugee children in Mahama have higher than average enrolment rates; 88% of primary school aged children and 100% of secondary school aged children were enrolled as of April 2021. ©Indego Africa / B Barb
In urban settings, after paying for food and shelter, a refugee family may not be able to afford school necessities - fees, uniforms, textbooks, and travel to and from school. And, as refugee children get older, they have a greater risk of dropping out of school to support their families, which intensified especially as a result of pandemic’s economic impact.
This needs to change.
According to UNHCR’s 'Her Turn’ report, education for girls “reduces [their] vulnerability to exploitation, sexual and gender-based violence, teenage pregnancy and child marriage.” For boys, it can offer an alternative to labour, exploitation or recruitment into armed groups. For both, school also offers a routine, camaraderie – a sense of normalcy, an anchoring experience, despite the difficulty of existence in volatile and hostile environments.
Education is a fundamental right that refugee children deserve, and we believe that artisan work is part of the solution.
“Education must be an integral part of the emergency response to a refugee crisis. It can provide a protective and stable environment for a young person when all around them seems to have descended into chaos. It imparts life-saving skills, promotes resilience and self-reliance, and helps to meet the psychological and social needs of children affected by conflict. Education is not a luxury – it is a basic need.” - Filippo Grandi, UNHCR High Commissioner
The son of an Afghan refugee artisan working with MADE51 partner, Artisan Links, in Pakistan, pictured after school. © UNHCR/ R. Mirza
Over 80% of MADE51 artisans are women. Their work allows them to better support their basic needs and many of those that are mothers report using the income they earn to help put their children through school.
Fatouma, a Malian refugee living in Niger is helping her children chase big dreams saying, “With the extra money, I will contribute to my children’s education and buy them books, shoes, clothes, … My daughter would love to become a doctor one day. She is in high school and has good grades. My son would like to be an engineer.”
Fatouma, pictured in Niamey, Niger, where she and her family live as refugees after fleeing violence in Mali. Her children have big dreams, and she is supporting their efforts to achieve them. © UNHCR/ 6M Productions
Artisan work, and the financial independence it can offer, also allows women to demonstrate empowerment for their daughters and sons.
Earlier this year, one of our artisan partners, Maw Soe Meh, a refugee from Myanmar living in a camp in Northern Thailand, told us about the strength and confidence that artisan work has brought to her life. She said “Despite the poverty and marginalization, I remain standing and committed to give my children a better life…Weaving has become my outlet …My family and community see me not just a mere refugee woman but a strong pillar of my family, a woman leader and productive member of our community”
Maw Soe Meh overlooking the Ban Mai Nai Soi refugee camp, where she has lived for 20 years, raising 5 children. © UNHCR/ P Bronstein
Demonstrating women’s empowerment, as Maw Soe Meh does in her community, can encourage families to keep their girls in school. This is critical right now: The Malala Fund predicts that over 50% of refugee girls will not return to the classroom when schools reopen this fall. The situation is even more grave in the places where girls are most vulnerable: in places like Pakistan and other countries where girls’ secondary enrollment was less than 10% prior to the pandemic, all girls are at risk of dropping out for good.
Two young Afghan girls watering flowers in Pakistan. Girls are particularly vulnerable to gender-based violence risks when they are not enrolled in school. © UNHCR/ R. Mirza
As you watch children, adolescents, and youth around the world head back to school this fall – maybe even you or your own children – we remind you to think of the refugee children who have been left behind. They deserve better.
Learn more about UNHCR’s work in education here: https://www.unhcr.org/education.html