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Prospects Dim for Millions of Refugee Children Not in School

FILE - Burundian refugee children pose for a photograph at the Lake Tanganyika stadium in Kigoma, Tanzania, May 19, 2015.

A report by the U.N. refugee agency finds more than half of the world’s refugee children, about 3.7 million, do not go to school and will not gain the skills needed to build a productive future.

The statistics on education for refugee children worsen as the children grow older. The report finds 63% of refugee children go to primary school, compared to 91% globally. But that dwindles to only 24% of refugee adolescents getting a secondary education, compared to 84% globally.

Investing in the future

The U.N. refugee agency says lack of money is keeping refugee children out of school. The head of the Global Communications Service and UNHCR spokeswoman, Melissa Fleming, calls the failure to invest in refugee education shortsighted. She says this is not only sad, but also foolish.

“Not investing in refugees, people who have fled warzones, people who have fled countries where the world is interested in the future of peace is not investing—very simply—in the future of its people ... who are interested in reconciliation and not revenge.”

The UNHCR is backing a new initiative aimed at kick-starting secondary education for refugees. The initiative will seek to construct and refurbish schools, train teachers and provide financial support to refugee families to cover the expenses of sending their children to school.

Secondary education

Mamadou Dian Balde is UNHCR deputy director of the Department of Resilience and Solutions. He tells VOA some pilot projects on secondary education for refugee adolescents will be conducted before the initiative gets fully underway.

“We are going to start in a very ... in a very, I think, resolute manner in a given number of countries in the eastern Horn of Africa, in Asia and then move into a greater number of countries—also being aware of the scarcity of resources in such an initiative.”

The UNHCR says bringing this initiative to fruition will take vast sums of money. But an initial outlay of $250 million will get moving the process of improving refugee enrollment in secondary education.