Refugee Summits Provide Historic Opportunity for Refugee Education

Refugee Summits Provide Historic Opportunity for Refugee Education

  • Posted: Sep 20, 2016 -
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By: Giulia McPherson

This week, world leaders are gathering in New York City for the United Nations Summit for Refugees and Migrants and the U.S. Leaders’ Summit on Refugees, to agree on policies and set forth commitments that can create significant change in the lives of displaced children who are currently out of school. This presents an historic opportunity to ensure that education in emergencies and protracted crises is prioritized and to follow-up on previous pledges to invest additional resources in these critical programs.

According to a recent report released by UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, more than half – 3.7 million – of the six million school-age children under its mandate have no school to go to. Refugee children are five times more likely to be out of school than non-refugee children and only 50 percent have access to primary education, 22 percent attend lower secondary school and just one percent have access to higher education.

Following the May 2016 launch of Education Cannot Wait, a new fund for education in emergencies, the Refugee Summits provide an opportunity for the global community to further current initiatives that seek to bridge the gap in access to refugee education.

After several months of consultations, a draft New York Declaration for Refugees and Migrants has been released, in advance of the UN Summit for Refugees and Migrants taking place on September 19. The Declaration calls for the provision of quality primary and secondary education in safe learning environments for all refugee children within a few months of initial displacement. It also supports wider access to early childhood and tertiary education, as well as skills training and vocational education.

To complement this initiative, U.S. President Barack Obama is co-hosting a Leaders’ Summit on Refugees on September 20, in partnership with the Governments of Canada, Ethiopia, Germany, Jordan, Mexico and Sweden. This Summit will bring together leaders of Member States who are prepared to make new and significant commitments in 2016 that help address the most urgent needs of refugees.

The U.S. Leaders’ Summit aims to 1) increase humanitarian financing by 30 percent; 2) double the global number of resettled refugees; and 3) increase the number of refugees with the right to work by one million and increase the number of refugee children enrolled in school by one million. Organizers of the Leaders’ Summit are expecting both financial and political commitments by participating Member States that will help reach all three goals.

Civil society representatives have called on the UN, the U.S., and world leaders to consider a number of recommendations in advance of the September Summits. These include:

  • Fully funding the new Education Cannot Wait Fund;
  • Ensuring that commitments towards refugee education are new and the previous pledges are not double-counted;
  • Including education as a priority in humanitarian funding appeals;
  • Encouraging refugee-hosting governments to make commitments towards integrating refugee students and teachers into national school systems; and
  • Ensuring that a public accountability mechanism must be put in place to track Summit commitments, including regular public reporting on progress against commitments.


In addition, initial investments by the Education Cannot Wait fund are expected to be made next week in New York, which will also bolster support for, and awareness of, the critical need for education in times of crisis.

While the details have yet to unfold, 3.7 million refugee children are waiting for an answer to whether they will go to school this year. We must deliver on past promises and invest in their futures.

Giulia McPherson is the Assistant Director for Policy |Jesuit Refugee Service/USA You can follow her on Twitter.