Promoting quality education for all.

World Refugee Day Highlights Increased Need for Access to Education in Emergencies

Giulia McPherson, 

Photo of Rama a thirteen-year-old girl, from Homs, Syria who is enrolled in a Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) center for children. She is sitting at a school desk, writing.

Yesterday, June 20, marked World Refugee Day, an opportunity to draw attention to the record 68.5 million people who are displaced around the world. The statistics are stark, but the resilience of refugees and others who are forcibly displaced is palpable as they journey to find safety, security and build a better future for themselves and their families.

According to UNHCR figures released this week, Syria continues to top the list of refugee-producing countries with more than 6 million individuals who have fled the country. Inside Syria, more than 6 million people are internally displaced and 13 million are in need of humanitarian assistance, including basic aid and protection.

“We had to move at least twenty times from one place to another. When we finally returned to our ‘original home’ it had been completely burned down and destroyed” says Rama a thirteen-year-old girl, from Homs, Syria who is enrolled in a Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) center for children. The war has impacted Rama’s life in myriad ways, including interrupting her schooling.

Within Syria and across the region, access to education for children displaced by the Syrian conflict is at a critical juncture. Inside Syria, one in three schools are not operational due to destroyed infrastructure or lack of security, and a third of all children within the country are out of school. In neighboring refugee-hosting countries – primarily Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey – 43.5 percent of school-aged children from Syria are out of school. Child labor is widespread and rates of early marriage among the refugee population is over 20 percent in Lebanon and 30 percent in Jordan.

In a recent report by JRS/USA, Protecting the Promise of a Generation, we describe the challenges refugees face in accessing a quality education, and how to address those challenges. Education offers an important form of protection for children and engenders hope as it prepares refugees to meet future challenges. Education provides stability and a sense of normalcy, and acts as a form of vital psychosocial support to children whose lives have been affected by crisis. 

JRS is working across Syria and the region to ensure children like Rama and those who I met in Lebanon have access to early childhood education, primary and secondary education, youth centers, and learning support programs like tutoring and language training, are all necessary interventions. These programs ensure that the generation of children who have lived through war, and know little else, will be independent and self-sufficient no matter what their future holds.

In Homs, Syria JRS has three centers, all of which offer education and activities for children. When they returned to Homs, Rama enrolled in the JRS program. At first, she had a difficult time, refusing to mix with other children and preferring isolation, but the JRS social worker and staff worked closely with Rama and her family to help her regain her self-esteem.

Maintaining this level of support by the U.S. is critical as Syrian families struggle daily to put food on the table and a roof over their heads. Yet, investing in education should be as much of a priority. Unfortunately, globally, education receives on only 2.7 percent of total humanitarian aid available, which amounts to 48 percent of the amount requested.

In addition to traditional bilateral support by donors, a new funding mechanism established at the World Humanitarian Summit in May 2016, Education Cannot Wait, has transformed the delivery of education in emergencies by mobilizing the partners and resources needed to provide for a child’s right to education in the face of complex and protracted crises. 

With both rapid response and multi-year funding platforms, Education Cannot Wait programs fund education in emergency and protracted crisis situations and include a special focus on reaching girls, improving protection of the most vulnerable, and improving both teacher capacity and engagement with the refugee host community.

Through innovative mechanisms like Education Cannot Wait, we must ensure that education becomes a priority for all displaced children and adolescents.


Giulia McPherson is the Director of Advocacy & Operations at Jesuit Refugee Service/USA. JRS works in more than 50 countries worldwide to meet the educational, health, psycho-social and emergency needs of refugees and other forcibly displaced persons.

Follow me on Twitter: @GiuliaMcPherson

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