Mo Salah calls for team effort to ensure disadvantaged children receive education

UNHCR warns COVID-19 a dire threat hopes of young refugees

Egyptian football star Mo Salah calls for a team effort to ensure disadvantaged children receive a life-changing education

Egyptian football star Mo Salah calls for a team effort to ensure disadvantaged children receive a life-changing education  © UNHCR/Vodafone Foundation/Mike Dodd

LONDON/GENEVA, SEPT 3, UNHCR - The UN Refugee Agency, UNHCR today released a report warning that unless immediate and bold action was taken by the international community to beat back the catastrophic effects of COVID-19 on refugee education, the potential of millions of young refugees all over the world would be at risk.

In a powerful Final Word to the report, titled “Coming Together for Refugee Education,” the Vodafone Foundation and UNHCR Ambassador for the Instant Network Schools Programme, Mohamed Salah, said ensuring quality education today means less poverty and suffering tomorrow.


Around the world, COVID-19 has closed schools and universities. It has emptied offices and hotels, stadiums, cafes, museums, cinemas: almost everywhere we used to gather.

It has disrupted not only the education of our children and youth but also the work of those who teach them – and the livelihoods of the parents who do everything they can to pay for books, uniforms and school journeys.

For many refugee children, the vast majority of whom live in the developing world, the coronavirus has added new challenges to lives already torn apart by conflict and persecution. Many may never ever now return to school. Hard-won gains built up slowly and patiently over decades risk being reversed indefinitely. Young lives could be ruined forever.

I became the ambassador for the Instant Network Schools programme only days before the coronavirus pandemic radically altered our everyday lives. Delivered in partnership by Vodafone Foundation and UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, INS connects thousands of refugee and host-country students to a quality digital education.

Part of my new role was intended to include visiting the schools supported by the INS programme to raise awareness of the vital importance of quality education for refugee children. Like many other people’s travel plans, mine will have to change.

But the INS project – like many of the initiatives highlighted in this report – shows how we can come together in new ways to make a difference to the lives of millions of young people, who more than ever need a helping hand.

Children who have been uprooted from their homes need books, schools, qualified teachers and more. But they also need the digital technology that connects them to the rest of the world.

That means better partnerships with the private sector, who are stepping up to create and deliver technology solutions – by providing software, hardware and connectivity. Together, we must also ensure the necessary funding and training to make connected education initiatives linked to national education systems available in all regions of the world.

It is not just about technology. Every company can make a difference; transport, construction, sport, sanitation, health care and more - getting kids to school, building the classrooms they need, safeguarding their physical and mental well-being.

I mean apprenticeships and employment opportunities that will give refugees and non-refugees alike something to aim for, and the means to support themselves and their families.

In turn, the private sector needs to build on the needs of refugees and the priorities set by their host governments. By also leveraging the capacity and harnessing the aspirations of refugees and hosting communities, along with the expertise and experience of aid agencies, charities, NGOs and others, these projects can be locally owned and made as effective as possible.

Ensuring quality education today means less poverty and suffering tomorrow.

As we face this pandemic together, innovation will play a crucial role if the world’s displaced children and youth are not to lose all hope of getting an accredited, quality education.

Not only innovation measured in silicon chips, but bold and imaginative thinking across the board to make that education a reality.

Unless everyone plays their part, generations of children – millions of them in some of the world’s poorest regions – will face a bleak future.

But if we work as a team, as one, we can give them the chance they deserve to have a dignified future. Let’s not miss this opportunity.