Global partnerships are needed to strengthen education for 80 million refugees

Today, we somberly observe World Refugee Day amid reminders that support for refugees and vulnerable populations through education is now more urgent than ever.

UNHCR, the United Nations Refugee Agency, recently estimated that, for the first time in history, the number of forcibly displaced people fleeing persecution, war, violence, and other violations of fundamental rights is more than 80 million. The Arab region has been disproportionately affected: Although it accounts for less than 6 percent of the global population, it hosts 32 percent of all refugees and 38 percent of all people internally displaced by conflict, according to the U.N.’s Arab States 2019 Global Education Monitoring Report.

Given the sheer numbers of refugees and migrants and the health and economic downturns due an unexpected pandemic, the region is an incubator for humanitarian crises that have stymied the pace of education development, putting youth at a greater risk of exploitation.

Globally, the number of forcibly displaced people will continue to grow as conflicts threaten individuals and families. The future for those who flee their country remains bleak, as 86 percent of them are hosted in developing countries that lack the resources to sustainably support a growing population. Moreover, Covid-19 has exacerbated the challenges that already exist, particularly in education, as donors focus primarily on health and safety.

In Lebanon and Jordan, which host an unmercifully high number of refugees, less than 5 percent of refugees completed secondary education even before Covid. The recent focus on online learning is causing greater disparities as many of the most marginalized refugees lack access to reliable technology and the Internet. (See two related articles: “Few Refugees in Jordan and Lebanon Get Into Secondary Education” and “The Shift to Online Education in the Arab World Is Intensifying Inequality.”)

The Empowering Effects of Education

Despite the challenges, opportunities exist for sustainable, long-term change and positive impact once we begin to value the lives of marginalized strangers as much as we value individuals in our immediate circles.

Nevertheless, opportunities exist for sustainable, long-term change and positive impact once we begin to value the lives of marginalized strangers as much as we value individuals in our immediate circles. Quality education can ensure a brighter future for all refugees. It has been proven that education empowers refugees with knowledge and skills to live productive lives and contribute to their host communities. Education serves as a lifeline for many, providing opportunities to improve their lives.
On World Refugee Day in 2018, His Excellency Abdul Aziz Al Ghurair established the Abdul Aziz Al Ghurair Refugee Education FundIt supports high-impact education programs that help youth to access and complete secondary education and provides access to market-driven courses in vocational and postsecondary levels of education that help them attain elevated livelihoods.
Upon its establishment, the Refugee Education Fund’s overall goal was to benefit 20,000 refugees and vulnerable youth in Jordan, Lebanon, and the United Arab Emirates. As of February 2021, it exceeded its initial goal and has benefitted over 27,000 marginalized youth in the region. Among those who benefitted from the programs, 75 percent are currently employed and 55 percent are female. The Fund was able to reach a greater number than anticipated because the approach to the programs was rooted in strategic partnerships that have a positive multiplier effect. In other words, we embraced Goal 17 the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, which calls for us to “strengthen the means of implementation and revitalize the global partnership for sustainable development.”

A Renewed Commitment to Refugee Education

To commemorate World Refugee Day this month, His Excellency Abdul Aziz Al Ghurair has reaffirmed his commitment to refugee education by increasing the outreach to over 11,000 additional students and extending funding to eight more key partners in the region. The new commitment leverages resources and maximizes impact through co-financing from multilateral donors. It engages a diverse group of stakeholders, including corporations, educational institutions, governments, international donors, and refugees. Building on experience and resourcing strategies of partnerships, the Fund extended its reach with Sustainable Development Goal 17 as a pillar of the work.

It is hard to appreciate the incalculable loss a refugee endures. Even words such as “resilience,” “courage,” and “perseverance” do not adequately capture the drive to find a better life when you lose everything. How we choose to respond to the situations of these women, men, and children who have been forcibly displaced around the world serves as a reminder of our own humanity. Though great efforts have been made and some relative success has been achieved, the needs and challenges are increasing and additional support for refugee education in the Arab region is essential.

We need cross-sectoral partnerships that will innovate, leverage what works and address the realities of the situation with practical approaches. We are at a tipping point, and sustainable solutions will only emerge from joint work with actors who do not traditionally work together.

The Abdul Aziz Al Ghurair Refugee Education Fund extended its reach because we extended our hand to private, public, semi-government, and philanthropic organizations to plan, design, and implement impact-driven education solutions for the most vulnerable. We need more actors to step out of their comfort zone and find ways to forge new alliances and partnerships for good.

Dr. Sonia Ben Jaafar, Chief Executive Officer, Abdulla Al Ghurair Foundation for Education