New initiative to enroll 172,000 refugee children in school

News Stories, 20 November 2012

© Courtesy of the Office of Her Highness Sheikha Moza Bint Nasser
Sheikha Moza bint Nasser speaks at the launch of her new global initiative, Educate A Child.

DOHA, Qatar, 20 November (UNHCR) The UN refugee agency is taking a key role in the Educate a Child (EAC) initiative launched this month by Qatar's Sheikha Moza bint Nasser and aimed at enrolling 172,000 refugee children in school in a dozen countries.

"In Refugeeland there is no minister of education," UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres said of the millions of refugee children that fall under UNHCR's mandate. "Education is a fundamental human right that allows children to access other rights."

The EAC initiative was unveiled in Doha last week at the World Innovation Summit on Education by Sheikha Moza, wife of the Emir of Qatar Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani. Her Highness identified UNHCR as a key partner among several large strategic organizations and country-level partners.

With more than 60 million children not in school, EAC aims to help achieve the Millennium Development Goal II by assisting millions of children to access quality primary education.

"I wouldn't be where I am today without my father insisting on an education not only for the boys, but for the girls," former refugee and South Sudanese supermodel Alek Wek said at the launch. "If you educate a girl, you educate a family and you educate a community," said Wek, a UNHCR supporter.

The first phase of the new partnership involves a US$12 million grant half from Sheikha Moza and half from UNHCR that the agency is using to enroll an additional 172,000 refugee children in school. The project is being implemented this year in 12 key countries around the world, including Wek's native South Sudan.

Suad Mohammed, a 23-year-old Somali school principal at Kakuma refugee camp in Kenya, spoke of the need for equal access to education: "Refugee children are forgotten children. They deserve an education just as children in Canada, the United States or Europe do." Suad grew up in Kakuma and was educated at the school where she is now the principal.

The EAC partnership comes at an opportune time. In some refugee camps, such as Yida on the border between Sudan and South Sudan, 70 per cent of refugees are under the age of 18.

The refugee agency is facing a challenging year as it addresses displacement crises in South Sudan/Sudan, Syria, Mali and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, while maintaining operations in more than 100 other countries.

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Alek Wek Biography

Biography of the British Supermodel

Alek Wek and UNHCR

Learn about Alek Wek's links with UNHCR.

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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.

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.

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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.

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Kigeme: A home carved from the hills for Congolese refugees

The Kigeme refugee camp in Rwanda's Southern province was reopened in June 2012 after thousands of Congolese civilians started fleeing across the border when fighting erupted in late April between Democratic Republic of the Congo government forces and fighters of the rebel M23 movement. Built on terraced hills, it currently houses more than 14,000 refugees but was not significantly affected by the latest fighting in eastern Congo, which saw the M23 capture the North Kivu provincial capital, Goma, before withdrawing. While many of the adults long for lasting peace in their home region, the younger refugees are determined to resume their education. Hundreds enrolled in special classes to help them prepare for the Rwandan curriculum in local primary and secondary schools, including learning different languages. In a camp where more than 60 per cent of the population are aged under 18 years, the catch-up classes help traumatized children to move forward, learn and make friends.

Kigeme: A home carved from the hills for Congolese refugees

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