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Education for displaced children in Colombia

Campaigns, 14 September 2007

© UNHCR/P.Smith
Sterlin carries gallons of water from the tanks by the military base to his home, an exhausting journey of around 40 minutes.

I. Background

Two million people are listed on Colombia's National Register for Displaced People; at least one million more are estimated to have been uprooted by violence as a result of the internal armed conflict. About half of them are under the age of 18.

Under Colombian law, schools must accept displaced children in their new place of residence without demanding proof of previous schooling. Poor displaced families are exempt from paying the school's registration fee and from buying a uniform. But free schooling is available only to children whose parents have registered as displaced, and not for the many others who do not. The Ministry of Education estimates around 500,000 children are out of school.

II. Challenges

Before displacement, children in high-risk areas face physical danger and difficulties travelling to schools in mined areas. Sometimes, schools are taken over by armed groups during combat, and children risk forced recruitment outside schools. Teachers are common targets of irregular armed groups, making it extremely difficult to recruit in some rural areas and affecting the quality of education. Schools in conflict-affected zones are often not getting the special attention they need from the authorities and lack basic resources. Many children must work to help support their family, especially when their father is dead or absent due to the conflict.

During displacement, children often lose a whole academic year. Family dislocation after displacement and the psychological trauma of the violence children lived through are often left unaddressed and greatly disrupt their learning potential. Increased poverty after displacement forces children to seek casual work or look after younger children to help the family. The lack of basic resources like food and clothes makes schooling impossible. Many displaced families live in extremely poor and often violent urban areas. Children there are vulnerable to social violence, sexual abuse, and recruitment into gangs. Displaced children are often discriminated against in schools. For them, integrating in their new communities is as essential as learning.

III. UNHCR intervention

UNHCR supports the government's response to the educational crisis of displaced children, including the drawing up and implementation of educational and public policies that take their needs into account. It makes local interventions in high-risk areas, rebuilding damaged schools, providing school supplies and supporting teachers' networks. It supports national initiatives to provide remedial/gap teaching to displaced children through Learning Circles. Bursaries and training for young displaced people to access higher education are provided, along with psycho-social support through arts therapy or discussion groups. UNHCR consults with the Ministry of Education to ensure the needs of displaced children are known and planned for. It also focuses on the educational needs of ethnic minorities such as the Afro-Colombians and indigenous people.

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Education is vital in restoring hope and dignity to young people driven from their homes.

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The German-funded Albert Einstein German Academic Refugee Initiative provides scholarships for refugees to study in higher education institutes in many countries.

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Chad: Education in Exile

UNHCR joins forces with the Ministry of Education and NGO partners to improve education for Sudanese refugees in Chad.

The ongoing violence in Sudan's western Darfur region has uprooted two million Sudanese inside the country and driven some 230,000 more over the border into 12 refugee camps in eastern Chad.

Although enrolment in the camp schools in Chad is high, attendance is inconsistent. A shortage of qualified teachers and lack of school supplies and furniture make it difficult to keep schools running. In addition, many children are overwhelmed by household chores, while others leave school to work for local Chadian families. Girls' attendance is less regular, especially after marriage, which usually occurs by the age of 12 or 13. For boys and young men, attending school decreases the possibility of recruitment by various armed groups operating in the area.

UNHCR and its partners continue to provide training and salaries for teachers in all 12 refugee camps, ensuring a quality education for refugee children. NGO partners maintain schools and supply uniforms to needy students. And UNICEF is providing books, note pads and stationary. In August 2007 UNHCR, UNICEF and Chad's Ministry of Education joined forces to access and improve the state of education for Sudanese uprooted by conflict in Darfur.

UNHCR's ninemillion campaign aims to provide a healthy and safe learning environment for nine million refugee children by 2010.

Chad: Education in Exile

Education for Displaced Colombians

UNHCR works with the government of Colombia to address the needs of children displaced by violence.

Two million people are listed on Colombia's National Register for Displaced People. About half of them are under the age of 18, and, according to the Ministry of Education, only half of these are enrolled in school.

Even before displacement, Colombian children attending school in high-risk areas face danger from land mines, attacks by armed groups and forced recruitment outside of schools. Once displaced, children often lose an entire academic year. In addition, the trauma of losing one's home and witnessing extreme violence often remain unaddressed, affecting the child's potential to learn. Increased poverty brought on by displacement usually means that children must work to help support the family, making school impossible.

UNHCR supports the government's response to the educational crisis of displaced children, which includes local interventions in high-risk areas, rebuilding damaged schools, providing school supplies and supporting local teachers' organizations. UNHCR consults with the Ministry of Education to ensure the needs of displaced children are known and planned for. It also focuses on the educational needs of ethnic minorities such as the Afro-Colombians and indigenous people.

UNHCR's ninemillion campaign aims to provide a healthy and safe learning environment for nine million refugee children by 2010.

Education for Displaced Colombians

Panama's Hidden Refugees

Colombia's armed conflict has forced millions of people to flee their homes, including hundreds of thousands who have sought refuge in other countries in the region.

Along the border with Colombia, Panama's Darien region is a thick and inhospitable jungle accessible only by boat. Yet many Colombians have taken refuge here after fleeing the irregular armed groups who control large parts of jungle territory on the other side of the border.

Many of the families sheltering in the Darien are from Colombia's ethnic minorities – indigenous or Afro-Colombians – who have been particularly badly hit by the conflict and forcibly displaced in large numbers. In recent years, there has also been an increase in the numbers of Colombians arriving in the capital, Panama City.

There are an estimated 12,500 Colombians of concern to UNHCR in Panama, but many prefer not to make themselves known to authorities and remain in hiding. This "hidden population" is one of the biggest challenges facing UNHCR not only in Panama but also in Ecuador and Venezuela.

Panama's Hidden Refugees

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Beyond 'Those People'

Young people in remote regions of Colombia's Tolima department are at high risk of displacement and recruitment. The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) has set up education projects to support and protect children and youth. This project has been carried out as part of the EU's Children of Peace initiative, which uses the money from the EU's 2012 Nobel Peace Prize to help children affected by conflict.
Mauritania: Learning in the DesertPlay video

Mauritania: Learning in the Desert

UNHCR works to give children access to education while they are living in exile.
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Iran: Education for All

Iran, which hosts the second largest refugee population in the world, opens its schools to refugee children.