I rise today, on Human Rights Day and in celebration of the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, to speak on the right of education for refugee children and youth.
The right to education is not a privilege, but a human right, guaranteed under Article 26 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, as well as numerous other international instruments.
UNHCR reports that wars, conflict and persecution have forced more people than at any other time in history to flee their homes and seek safety and refuge elsewhere.
Currently, there are currently 68.5 million forcibly displaced people around the globe. Over 50% of those displaced are children and youth.
Given that the average time a refugee is away from their home country is between 10 to 17 years, millions of children and youth are in danger of going without adequate or any education for most of their childhood and adolescent years.
Despite efforts of international organizations, lack of access to education for refugees has reached a crisis stage, in particular at the secondary levels and in educations for girls. To make matters worse, the amount of humanitarian aid allocated to education has been falling for six years in a row.
As but one example, Rohingya children in refugee camps are currently being denied the chance of a proper education.
In this regard, UNICEF has reported that if an investment is not made in education now, there is a significant danger of seeing a ‘lost generation’ of Rohingya children, who lack critical skills needed to deal with their current situation and contribute to their society in the future.
Education provides a way out of poverty and a pathway to a prosperous and empowered future. While food, shelter and health care are indispensable, education must be elevated to the next priority on the list.
Education helps protect refugee children and youth from forced labour, being trafficked for prostitution, forced into marriage or recruited into combat.
As we know, these dangers are rampant in refugee camps. Attending school also helps keep track of youth and children in the camps.
The former UN High Commissioner for Refugees has said that “in the devastating context of global conflict and displacement, education gives hope to refugee children and youth to envision and build a secure future.”
Honourable Senators, as it currently stands, only 2.7% of international humanitarian aid is allocated to education.
Therefore, achieving education for ALL refugee children and youth will require a global commitment to find additional innovative ways to ensure that refugee boys and girls around the world attain their inalienable human right to education.