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Fund Provides Secondary Education to Refugee Teens - 2002-06-06


Organizers of a fund that provides secondary education to refugee children say they hope to reach 100,000 teenage refugees within the next five years.

The Refugee Education Trust is a Swiss humanitarian organization and the brainchild of the former U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, Sadako Ogata.

Ms. Ogata says refugee camps provide primary education, but not secondary education. Therefore, she says, she thought a fund providing such services would be the best legacy she could leave to refugee children.

"If they are educated, and this means they are empowered to be self-reliant, possibly, better chances of self-reliance when they go back home, or also be able to become contributing citizens of the country to which they sought asylum, or maybe even when they are resettled in a third country," she said.

The U.N. refugee agency says developing countries host about 1.5 million teenage refugees. Only 50,000 of them, a mere three percent, get more than a primary school education. The Refugee Education Trust says it aims to double that figure within five years.

The organization currently provides secondary education to more than 18,000 children in refugee camps in Tanzania, Pakistan, Guinea, Uganda and Sierra Leone. The most difficult programs are the ones in Guinea and Sierra Leone, where many of the students are former child soldiers.

Executive director of the trust, Jan Van Erps, says if these children do not go back to school before age 15, it often is too late to help them reintegrate into civil society.

"There is now a recent analysis on Afghanistan by an education expert," he said. "She documented that the Taleban would have recruited a lot less young people, if, in the refugee camps in Pakistan, there would have been a secondary school. But, there was no secondary school."

Mr. Van Erps says the organization emphasizes education for girls.

Although education in refugee camps is free, he says, there often are cultural barriers, which prevent girls from attending school. He says great effort is made to persuade parents of the value of sending girls to school.

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