By Hollie Warren, Head of Education Policy and Advocacy, Save the Children
In 2018, the international community adopted the Global Compact for Refugees, providing a framework for more predictable and equitable responsibility-sharing to better protect and assist refugees and ensure that host communities and countries get the support they need. It is based on the recognition that a sustainable solution to refugee situations cannot be achieved without international cooperation.
The Compact includes the landmark commitment that: “more direct financial support and special efforts will be mobilized to minimize the time refugee boys and girls spend out of education, ideally a maximum of three months after arrival”. Refugee boys and girls like Lina from Syria, Harriet from South Sudan, Sergio from Venezuela, and Andriy from , who know why education is so important to their futures. Their stories feature in Save the Children’s new report published yesterday – The Price of Hope: Funding education for the world’s refugee children – and make a compelling and urgent case for why action on education for refugees is needed now.
The world is failing to deliver on the promise of the Global Compact
World Refugee Day is a powerful reminder that despite the landmark commitment in the Global Compact five years ago, refugees continue to experience some of the lowest access rates to education in the world.
UNHCR estimates that refugee children miss out on an average of three to four years of schooling due to forced displacement. The gross enrolment rate for refugees at primary level is just 68% – that drops to just 37% for secondary education for refugees. Refugee girls are half as likely to enrol in secondary school as their male peers. 76% of refugees are hosted in low- and middle-income countries, where education systems struggle to meet the needs of children, and learning poverty is high. Resources are already stretched in these countries and education systems are not equipped to respond to a large influx of refugee learners or to address their complex needs.
Refugee numbers are rising, putting enormous strain on host countries
As new figures released by UNHCR demonstrated last week, global displacement figures continue to break records, as multiple and converging crises become more frequent and protracted. The number of people forced from their homes due to war and persecution passed 100 million for the first time in early 2022, with the outbreak of war in Ukraine. By the end of 2022, that number had reached almost 110 million.
Debt burdens also undermine governments’ ability to fund education – a situation anticipated only to get worse. Save the Children’s analysis for our report found that 4 out of 14 of the top low- and middle-income refugee hosting countries, nearly a third, spent more on servicing external debt than they did on education in 2020. We also found that interest payments on external debt alone by the low- and middle-income countries in the top 20 refugee-hosting countries totaled more than $23 billion in 2020 – this is enough to send every refugee child in low- and middle-income countries to school for nearly five years.
The 2023 Global Refugee Forum is an opportunity to get progress back on track
In 2019, UNHCR hosted the first ever Global Refugee Forum, with the aim was to bring the international community together to demonstrate solidarity with refugees and the countries hosting them, and to take action to support them in meeting the needs of refugees globally.
At the forum, 233 pledges were made on education but analysis from our report found that less have so far been fulfilled. However – there is likely a number of reasons for this. Many pledges span years, if not decades, and reflect medium- to long-term processes to deliver durable and lasting solutions for refugee children. We also know that many pledges were also affected by COVID-19, which exacerbated challenges that host governments face in delivering quality education for refugee and host community children.
In our report, we set out five things that we want to see from the Global Refugee Forum in 2023. This includes an urgent focus on financing. In 2021, the World Bank and UNHCR updated the estimated annual cost of educating refugee children in low- and middle-income countries. Their updated costings estimated this cost at US$4.85 billion globally. The international community must use the opportunity of the Forum in December to mobilise the money needed to deliver refugee education.
Allowing the education of millions of refugee children and young people to be cut short by displacement is not just ethically indefensible, it is economically ruinous. We know that equipped with a quality education, refugee children and young people can seize opportunities and secure a decent livelihood and future. Refugee children themselves tell us that they know how important an education is – it is now down to the international community to deliver this promise of hope.