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Progress is possible: education at the Global Refugee Forum

This week, national governments, international agencies, civil society organisations, and refugees themselves have arrived in Geneva for the world’s first Global Refugee Forum.

The meeting comes at the end of a tumultuous decade in which the number of refugees has risen to more than 26 million people worldwide.

The forced movement of people seeking protection in the face of conflict and persecution has tested the international refugee system and poses a persistent challenge for the countries that host large refugee populations.

Global Compact promises a new approach

In response, the international community agreed the Global Compact on Refugees, which sets out a new approach to refugee movements. It’s underpinned by stronger cooperation and solidarity with refugees and the countries that host them.

The Compact promises access to education within three months for refugees who have fled their country in search of protection.

But the reality for the vast majority of refugees is quite different. More than half the world’s refugees are children, and some 3.7 million of them have not only lost their homes but their opportunity to go to school.

We’ve been working to reverse this situation and ensure every refugee child has the opportunity to learn.

Refugees put a premium on education

Refugees know that education has the power to transform their children’s lives, paving the way to better work, health and livelihoods and that it will give them the skills they need to rebuild their countries.

That’s why refugees put a premium on education. Education Against the Odds, which we published earlier this year – the largest analysis of what children say they need during humanitarian emergencies –  revealed that children affected by crises are more than twice as likely to rank going to school as their top concern over other needs.

Education for refugees is a shared responsibility

Countries that receive and host refugees and include them in their national education systems, often for extended periods, already make a huge contribution. Given that 85% of the world’s refugees live in poor countries, which are often already struggling to meet the basic needs of their citizens, those countries must be better supported in this task.

In Time to Act, which we published earlier this year, we proposed a global plan of action to get every refugee child into school. It shows that we could deliver quality universal pre-primary, primary and secondary education to the world’s refugees, for $21.5 billion over five years — or $575 per child per year.

$11.9 billion would be needed in international assistance, or $4.3 billion per year. To put this into perspective, the 2018 World Cup cost $11 billion to stage, so although the figures look large, they represent a relatively modest investment, which could reap massive benefits.

The international community is not leaving Geneva with a commitment to find that money – and we need to keep the overall goal in focus – but a series of promising commitments were made.

Good news we must build on

At the last round of International Development Association (IDA) funding – one of the largest sources of concessional financing for the world’s poorest countries – the World Bank created a new grant window for refugee-hosting countries.

The next round, which has just been confirmed, will grow to $2.2 billion. And at a high-level event on financing at the Global Refugee Forum, which Save the Children convened, the World Bank committed to grow the proportion spent on education for refugees.

At the same event the Global Partnership for Education (GPE) announced the expansion of its accelerated funding mechanism. The decision will unlock up to $250 million in rapid funding for education in countries experiencing humanitarian emergencies in the coming year.

Previously, GPE partner countries experiencing a humanitarian crisis could apply for accelerated funding and request an advance of up to 20% of their maximum country allocation. Under the new decision, these countries can receive that funding as additional money, which allows them to keep their existing maximum country allocation.

This has been a long-standing recommendation of Save the Children that we set out in detail in Time to Act. We were delighted with the Global Partnership for Education’s announcement, which is a clear example of meaningful responsibility sharing.

The European Union and the government of Germany also announced additional funding for Education Cannot Wait, the global fund for education in emergencies, which will finance multi-year resilience programmes in at least 19 refugee-hosting countries between now and 2021.

All three of these organisations recognised that there are opportunities for each of them to work better together and to provide more effective, efficient and aligned support. At the same event they announced their joint pledge to improve the coordination and financing of their efforts.

Growing support for action on education for refugees

In addition to these promising financing developments, it has been gratifying to see the extent to which education has been profiled at the Forum.

Education has the largest number of official co-sponsors, including 13 national governments.

The preparatory process for the Forum also resulted in the publication of the Global Framework on Refugee Education, which has helped translate the Refugee Education 2030 Strategy into concrete pledges.

At the time of writing, 102 education specific pledges have been made. They include Save the Children’s pledge.

I’m confident that it’s possible to provide a good-quality education to every last refugee child. As the world’s first ever Global Refugee Forum winds up, I’m more aware than ever of how much there is to do. But I also leave Geneva pleased by what has been achieved, buoyed by the promise of additional support for refugee-hosting states, and inspired by the resilience and commitment of the refugees who have shared their stories here this week.

They have asked us to help make sure that becoming a refugee doesn’t mean losing out on an education. I live in hope that the world is finally listening to them.



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