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The Urgency of Refugee Education

Of the 17.2 million refugees that the UN Refugee Agency seeks to protect, roughly half are school-age children. But while conflict and violence is robbing them of their childhoods, many are also being denied a future, largely as a result of the international community's unfulfilled commitments to funding education for the displaced.

GENEVA – The world’s refugee crisis is most often measured in numbers. But for young refugees missing out on an education, the crisis can also be tracked by an irreversible metric: the passage of time. Of the 17.2 million people that the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (the UN Refugee Agency) is responsible for protecting, roughly half are under the age of 18, meaning that an entire generation of young people, already robbed of their childhood, could lose out on a future as well.

School-age children form a large share of the world’s displaced population. At the end of 2016, there were an estimated 11.6 million refugees experiencing “protracted displacement”: they have been away from their homes for more than five years and have no “immediate prospects” of return. Of these, 4.1 million have been refugees for at least 20 years, longer than the amount of time the average person spends in school.

The case for refugee education is clear. Childhood should be spent learning how to read, write, count, inquire, assess, debate, calculate, empathize, and set goals. These skills are especially important for those who will be called upon to rebuild their countries when they return home. Moreover, education provides refugee children a safe space amid the tumult of displacement. And education can even help ensure the peaceful and sustainable development of the communities that have opened their doors to displaced families.

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