Education is a Basic Right: Examining Access to Education for Refugees

 cr. UNHCR-Sebastian Rich

cr. UNHCR-Sebastian Rich

We all know at least a few of the levy organizations on campus, take Pro Tem or Lunik for example, but perhaps you’re not acquainted with one of Glendon’s lesser known levy orgs: WUSC. The World University Service of Canada-Glendon is our local college chapter of WUSC/L’EUMC, a Canadian organization dedicated to showing how education can change the world by helping to provide educational opportunities to the people who need it the most: refugees. Sadly, the fact is that educational barriers are pervasive. Across the world, from sub-saharan Africa to Southeast Asian, and even here in North and Central America, large numbers of refugees are unable to access basic primary school education. To make matters even more heartbreaking, experts say that the sense of normalcy which derives from the repetitive quality of scholastic activity can be greatly beneficial to the mental health of refugee children, who have often experienced terrible traumas in their young lives. It is undoubtable that the refugee crisis is a global dilemma and one which requires an immediate global strategy paired with global initiatives.

Currently, several such initiatives are led by WUSC, whose informative literature is filled with uplifting stories about the empowerment of young people through education. Many of these stories, and efforts, focus on the empowerment of young girls, who face additional gender and culture-based barriers. In the last decade, WUSC has worked in tandem with local organizations on the ground in Kenya, working mainly in the Dadaab and Kakuma refugee camps and surrounding host communities, to help young female refugees receive a valuable education. In addition to promoting access to education, WUSC seeks to provide scholarship opportunities and teacher training programs to emphasize the importance of education in creating a sense of empowerment. Since the implementation of these intiatives, literacy scores have increased by as much as 65% in these areas, with 80% of girls showing improvement in attitudes towards their teachers.

According to Human Rights Watch, more than half of school-aged Syrian children living in Lebanon are not enrolled in formal education. These are incredibly shocking figures, particularly when compared to those same figures prior to the start of the country’s ongoing civil war, when Syria had one of the highest education enrollment rates in Western Asia. This is because, as UNHCR writer Charlotte Jenner notes in her article on education and the future of Afghan refugees, “conflict is one of the most powerful determinants of whether a child is out of school. Half of the world’s out-of-school children are in conflict zones. That’s a staggering 29 million young minds out of the classroom. Statistics show that when conflict disrupts a child’s education they are less likely to resume. The tragic irony is that those countries whose children are out of school are the very ones that are in the greatest need of educated citizens to help them rebuild.” What’s more, according to the UN’s Canadian Refugee Agency (UNHCR), Afghan refugees in Iran are required to produce residency papers and pay tuition to enroll in state schools. And, considering that Iran is a country where as many as two million undocumented Afghans live in legal limbo (not to mention the constant human rights violations committed against Afghans living both legally and illegally in the country), this makes enrolling in formal education tricky to say the least.

To give a final note to my motherland: you’ve probably never heard the name Aqeela Asifi, but she happens to be the 2015 winner of the Nansen Refugee Award and has spent the last two and a half decades educating over 1000 children in the Kot Chandana Refugee Camp in Pakistan. Ultimately, personal crusades like Asifi’s and cross-border initiatives like those led by WUSC are the kinds of action we all need to take to ensure that education remains a basic human right, around the world. So, to wrap this up, let me quote a young refugee from Syria named Hany, who, in my opinion, put it best: “Education is light. Without it, we are in the dark forever. Without it, we are blind.”