Afghan refugees, who have voluntarily returned from neighboring Pakistan with assistance from United Nation High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), attend an open-air school outside their temporary shelters in Laghman province, Afghanistan | Photo: Ghulamullah Habibi / EPA
Afghan refugees, who have voluntarily returned from neighboring Pakistan with assistance from United Nation High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), attend an open-air school outside their temporary shelters in Laghman province, Afghanistan | Photo: Ghulamullah Habibi / EPA

The UN Refugee Agency UNHCR has urged more support for refugees accessing higher education in order to withstand the impact of COVID-19.

Considering that only three percent of refugees access higher education, the UN Refugee Agency UNHCR has urged governments and donors to help bridge critical gaps by ensuring the inclusion of refugee students in national education systems and the continuity of university programs, offering more places for refugees.

The organization said in a statement published on September 29 that the COVID-19 pandemic has been difficult for students and for refugees in particular, many of whom - 85% - reside in developing or least developed countries.

In the case of school closures, remote learning is not always available and even when it is possible, mobile phones, tablets, laptops, TV and radio sets as well as internet connectivity are often not available for displaced students.

Support needed

The socio-economic consequences of the pandemic not only constrain opportunities but may also force displaced and poor students to drop out of school and into work, begging or early marriages to try to support their families.

UNHCR also expressed concern in the statement that, unless support is urgently boosted, one of the consequences of the health emergency worldwide will be the reversal of a number of hard-won gains for refugee education, including an increase in refugee tertiary enrolment rates.

In 2017 only 1% of refugees were enrolled in higher education. Since the end of 2018, this figure has increased to three percent, largely owing to a greater recognition on the part of states, educational institutions and partner organizations of the importance of higher education for refugees.

2019: Record year

The UN agency said 2019 was a record year for its higher education scholarship scheme known as the DAFI program (the Albert Einstein German Academic Refugee Initiative) largely funded by the German government with the support of the Danish government as a new partner.

By the end of 2019, the number of refugee students enrolled through this program was 8,347 across 54 countries participating in the program, the organization said.

An appeal to strengthen inclusion

Supporting education, including at a tertiary level, was one of the key objectives of the Global Refugee Forum held in December last year.

In order not to succumb to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, UNHCR is urging governments, the private sector, civil society and other key stakeholders to help strengthen and improve refugee inclusion and accessibility to national education systems in host countries and to protect education financing, the statement said.

Without such action, countless futures will be jeopardized, the organization warned.

 

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