Credit: UNESCO Brussels

Providing education for migrants and refugees requires common action and shared responsibility

The global relevance and timeliness of the 2019 GEM Report Migration, displacement and education: Building bridges, not walls was fully evident at this week’s Global Education Meeting in Brussels.

This is a key moment in the SDG 4 follow up and review calendar. Scheduled to take place every 3 to 4 years, the main purpose of this event was to rally the international community behind a set of consensus-based key messages to be advocated for in the review of SDG 4 to take place at the next High-level Political Forum in July 2019. The meeting was organized by UNESCO and hosted by the Government of Belgium. Some 350 people attended, including ministers and officials from about 60 countries, representatives of development agencies and other partners.

The GEM Report team twice was given the opportunity to brief the audience on progress and challenges towards achieving SDG 4 using quantitative indicators, jointly with the UNESCO Institute of Statistics, and qualitative assessments of policy priorities.

In addition, migration and displacement were at the top of the agenda. A presentation of the 2019 GEM Report provided the setting for a panel consisting of ministers and high officials at the forefront of attempts to include migrants and refugees in national education systems.

“We support Syrian children with back up classes to help them integrate” said Reha Denemec, Deputy Minister of Education in Turkey, the country with the most refugees in the world. “Globally our goal has been to integrate all these vulnerable children into the education system no matter where they are from.” But, he continued, “EU funds are quite insufficient. Sustainability of providing education to these vulnerable children appears to be a problem in the future unless action is taken globally. High income countries have to take the responsibility of immigrant children in other countries.”

Supporting this point, Yasmine Sherif, Executive Director of the Education Cannot Wait fund, implored governments to take steps to translate the 2019 GEM Report’s seven recommendations into action. “There is a link in the GEM Report that is timely and ground-breaking, notably that between the global compact for refugees, the Comprehensive Refugee Response Framework and Education Cannot Wait. These actors are now coming together to address displacement, not to wait for it to come to an end, which can take up to 20 years, but going in before it take place, and when it happens.”

Reflecting this approach Jean-Louis De Brouwer, Director for Europe, Eastern Neighbourhood and Middle East within the Directorate- General for European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations, European Commission said: “We are going to spend 10% of all our humanitarian budget – around 84 million euros – on education in emergencies. We are supporting conditional cash transfers in Turkey – the biggest education in emergency programme in the world – and the Education Cannot Wait response plan in Uganda. Of our development cooperation funding, 60% is going to fragile countries, many of which host IDPs or refugees. In order to deliver effectively, we call for more coordinated actions among bilateral and other donors – a strong cohesive architecture is essential for delivering on SDG4.”

Others described some of the challenges their countries and organizations face in supporting education systems in the face of migratory flows. “There is a very serious situation in South America at the moment, posing a major challenge on education systems”, said representative from the Ministry of Education in Peru.

“This is a crucial theme”, said Alejandro Finocchiaro, Minister of Education of Argentina, about the 2019 GEM Report, “not only for the world but also for our region especially right now. Our country has received around 140,000 Venezuelans since 2015. Technically they are refugees, but we have granted them status of residents so they have equal footings with nationals in our country. We have tried to integrate them into our education systems because they have a right to education, and to work, too.”

The wasted potential of refugees was referenced by Daniel Endres, Director, Division of Resilience and Solutions at the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and Sjur Bergan, head of the education department at the Council of Europe, who said: “Recognizing some of these qualifications sounds trivial. But for a refugee it’s the difference between a virtuous and a viscous circle.” He described the European Qualifications Passport for refugees that the Council has supported.

Collette Suda, Chief Administrative Secretary and Principal Secretary, Kenyan Ministry of Education, said that “Kenya remains committed to building bridges, not walls”. Building on discussions from the regional launch of the GEM Report in Nairobi two weeks ago, she described her country’s efforts to meet the education needs of nomadic communities through a National Council for Nomadic Education.

Global Education Blog
Credit: UNESCO Brussels

With 260 million internal migrants, China has witnessed the largest population movement in the world. “We have made a great effort to build and improve the schools and infrastructure”, said vice-minister for education, Yao Sun. “And we have built boarding schools in rural areas to ensure left behind children can live in their schools and get a free room and free food. More than 30 million students get this free food. In the meantime, the government supports teachers to facilitate the children in the psychology to make sure they can get some help”

As the session closed, UNESCO’s Assistant Director General for Education, Stefania Giannini, reminded participants of the need for international cooperation and for reaching out to each other to drive forward the education agenda for people on the move.

Read the recommendations in our Report. Build them into your advocacy plans and campaigns.


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