The Value of Education for Refugee Livelihood
University of Cape Town, Safety and Violence Initiative, Parliamentary Monitoring Group
Abstract: Central to the development of humanity and community is education. Education is universally recognised as one of the essential human rights and economic freedoms. For economic progress, it is regarded as an indispensable vehicle of empowering the disadvantaged and marginalised, socially and economically. From this point of view, the paper discusses the value of education in responding to and solving refugee problems.
Keywords: Education, Refugees, Asylum-seekers, Poverty, Development, Dignity, Integration, Human Rights, Human Rights Education.
Education is of the greatest value in a refugee community. It is an indispensable vehicle by which full integration of refugees into host communities is promoted. It enables them to learn the languages, culture, and tradition of host communities, on one hand, and to acquire new knowledge and skills, which advance their employment or self-employment opportunities, on the other (1). In other words, education empowers refugees and expands their ability to turn their dreams into realities (2). The status of refugees cannot therefore be an impediment to refugees’ dreams. In alleviating this possible impediment, the drafters of the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees (3) and its 1967 Protocol (4) (the 1951 Refugee Convention) were convinced that refugees and asylum-seekers should attend schools “in the same circumstances” as citizens, as regards basic education (5) and “in the same circumstances” as foreign nationals, as regards tertiary education (6). The latter has been problematic in most refugee hosting states (7) as will be illustrated.
This paper is concerned with refugees’ access to education focussing primarily on its importance in a refugee’s life. This issue in question is analytically and critically discussed from a theoretical standpoint of rights-based approach to development. This approach ‘seek[s] solutions to poverty through the establishment and enforcement of rights that entitle the poor and marginalised people to a fair share of society’s resources.’ (8) It brings together two important disciplines, namely, “human rights” and “human development” so as to empower the disadvantaged, socially and economically and to secure ‘freedom for a life of dignity and to expand people’s choices and opportunities’. (9)
Within this context, the paper, in section two, explores education from a standpoint of a human right paradigm and illustrates how education is an indispensable means of uplifting refugees out of poverty and realising other basic rights if it is translated into entitlement. The third section explores the right to basic education and it is analysed from a standpoint of its definitional conceptualisation. On the basis of the definition, the paper argues that basic education develops refugee children’s personalities, talents and mental physical abilities and prepares them to be responsible adults who are productive and protect themselves against economic shocks. The fourth section explores the right to tertiary education which is also analysed from its definitional conceptualisation. It argues that tertiary education is key to refugees’ development, both individually and collectively. It empowers refugees with skills and knowledge that will enable them to fully integrate in host communities and, eventually, contribute to national and global economy. The paper, in section five, concludes by drawing on Amartya Sen’s understanding of ‘freedom as development’. It underscores that education increases refugees’ freedom to take purposive choices and to act upon them so as to advance themselves and their dependants, socially and economically.
2. Education as a human right
The right to education was first entrenched in the article 26 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) of 1948 (10) and was given effect by article 13 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social Cultural Rights (ICESCR) of 1966 (11) so as to attain a binding authority. The importance, joy and rewards of education can be drawn from the narrow definition of the concept of education provided by United Nations Education, Scientific, and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) in 1974:
“Education is the entire process of social life by means which individual and social groups learn to develop consciously within, and for the benefit of, the national and international communities, the whole of their personal capabilities, attitudes, aptitudes and knowledge.” (12)
In its General Comment No 13 concerning education, the Economic and Social Council, in 1999, generally and widely defined the concept of education as follows:
“Education is both a human right in itself and an indispensable means of realising other human rights. As an empowerment rights, education is the primary vehicle by which economically and socially marginalised adults and children can lift themselves out of poverty and obtain the means to participate fully in their communities. Education has a vital role in empowering women, safeguarding children from exploitative and hazardous labour and sexual exploitation, promoting human rights and democracy, protecting the environment, and controlling population growth. Increasingly, education is recognised as one of the best financial investments state can make. But the importance of education is not just practical: a well-educated, enlightened and active mind, able to wonder freely and widely, is one of joys and rewards of human existence.” (13)
In light of this definition, without education, a refugee will not be able to realise other fundamental human rights, more precisely, civil rights (14), including, the right to life; the right to dignity; the right to equality; the right to freedom and security of the person; the right to trade, occupation, or profession; right not to be subjected to slavery or exploitation (i.e. fair labour practices); the right of freedom of expression, of association, of movement and residence, and of religion, belief and opinion; the right to assemble and demonstrate; the right to an environment that is not harmful to their health or wellbeing; the right to housing and accommodation; the right to healthcare, food, water and social security; the rights of their children; the right to education; the right to use their languages and to participate in their cultural or traditional life; the right to access information either held by the state or any other person; the right to have their disputes resolved by a competent court and, in criminal matters, at the state expenses, if substantial injustice would otherwise result; and the right of arrested, detained, and accused persons. Most importantly, how these civil rights can be exercised and the manner in which they can be reasonably and justifiably be limited or at what extent a refugee or an asylum-seeker can enjoy these rights. Indeed, refugee rights can be claimed through actual struggle by refugees’ own understandings of what they are justly and fairly entitled to. Besides, adult refugees and their children need education for their minds to wonder freely and widely in a bid of restoring the sense of normalcy to their lives thereby being able to cope with normal stress of life. (15)
A number of refugees are socially and economically marginalised and disadvantaged and live in lamentable conditions; they are poor and homeless. (16) By virtue of their status, they endure a special vulnerability in their respective host communities. For example, in South Africa, they are associated with the country’s social ills and criminal activities due to the South Africans’ understanding that refugees, more often than not, are poor. (17) Consequently, refugees, asylum-seekers, and economic migrants have been main target of xenophobic attacks because they are portrayed as ‘a threat to South African lives.’ (18) Also, the study conducted by Winnifred R. Louis et al (2007) revealed that the same perception was held by Australian populations, resulting in support for restrictive measures in respect of entry of refugees and accessing national resources and opportunities (19). In addition, the many literature points out that the attitudes towards refugee communities in host nations have become hostile and thus less welcoming (20). They are classified as ‘unwanted migrants’ on the basis of a premise that they cannot contribute to the country’s economic growth and they are, instead, viewed as a drain on public resources (21). Education is therefore vital in fighting against this stigmatisation and denigration. Education will enable refugees to lift themselves out of poverty and misery and, eventually, obtain the means to participate fully in the host communities as well as to contribute to national economic development and, upon return, to the development of their own countries.
In the case of refugee women, education empowers them at such an extent that they will be able to support themselves and their families. In many conflict situations, many of the victims are men. Usually, women take flight in a quest for a safe haven along with their children. In exile, thy often find themselves assuming the role of their husbands as heads of households and breadwinners in addition to parental responsibilities and attending domestic work (22). In order to cope with this stressful new life, a woman needs education to acquire a marketable skills and knowledge and to understand the importance of controlling her reproductive system. In the case of unaccompanied children, education will keep them out of the street and they are less likely to be exposed to employers who might exploit them. They are rather more likely to be able to realise their potentials and to become responsible people who will, in my view, chart the route to desirable political and social change in their home countries. From this perspective, I turn to examine the importance of providing basic education to refugee children.
3. Basic (and secondary) education: Grooming a tolerant nation
As noted above, the concept of education generally shapes an individual attitudes and aptitudes and develops knowledge and capabilities. In particular, basic education is of paramount importance for individual and societal development (23). It is defined by the Constitutional Court of South Africa as:
“an important socioeconomic right directed, among other things, at promoting and developing a child’s personality, talents and mental and physical abilities to his or her fullest potential. [It] also provides a foundation for a child‘s lifetime learning and work opportunities. ” (24)
In other words, basic education prepares children to be able to take tomorrow’s opportunities for their own advantage. Both basic and secondary educations are directed at preparing a child to have various talents, from which the child may decide to develop some talents and skills through tertiary education. It also prepares a child to be responsible for his or her life in a free society, in the spirit of understanding, peace, tolerance, equality of sexes, and friendship among all people, ethnic, national and religious groups and persons of indigenous origin (25). It develops his or her respect for natural environment. (26)
Refugee children have experienced traumatic events. Some have been subjected to physical, psychological and emotional torture. Those close to them have been victims of many kind of torture and violence on the basis of personal attributes such as political opinion, ethnicity, tribe or religion. They are bred and grown up in refugee camps where they are exposed to political conflicts of their home countries at early age as well as frustration, depression, and humiliation of their parents arising out of a refugee situation. Those who do not live in the refugee camps are exposed to local populations’ anti-immigrants sentiment when they are at home and away from home. Education will therefore help them to be aware of their self and to strive to make the world a better place devoid of antagonism, xenophobia, hatred, and social division. Notwithstanding this, basic (or secondary) education will not at all give refugee children a dream career. It is imperative that they pursue their dream at technical and professional (vocational) training colleges or universities. In order to acquire a marketable skills or realisation of one’s potentiality, higher/tertiary education is essential.
Unlike the basic education that is guaranteed by the 1951 Convention to the Status of Refugees, the Convention requires a hosting state, as regards the right to further education, to accord to them favourable treatment as possible, and in any event not less favourable than that accorded to foreign nationals in the same circumstances (27). The right to basic education is distinct from the right to tertiary education (28) because it needs to be compulsory and available to all children (29) whereas tertiary education is made available on the basis of merits (30) and subject to appropriate measures (31). For needy and deserving students, financial assistance is anticipated to be made available. (32)
Given the vulnerability of the refugees, a hosting state needs to allocate resources to facilitate refugees to access tertiary education. As the standard of treatment is comparable to that accorded to international/foreign students, most refugees and asylum-seekers are unable to turn these rights into entitlement because hosting states tends to restrict public funds to their citizens (33). As international students, refugees or asylum-seekers are required to cover their school fees. This challenges vulnerable refugees or asylum-seekers to pursue their dream. This has an implication of relegating them to the margin of society and subjecting them to perpetual and structural poverty. In an effort to solving the problems of refugees, financial and material support should not be taken for granted. Within this view, I turn to discuss the importance of tertiary education and why hosting state should allocate resources to educate refugees, which is necessary for the full realisation of their potentials, in particular, and for enjoyment of other basic rights, in general.
4. Tertiary Education: Vital to livelihood
The concept of ‘tertiary education’ has no universal definition. However, it is defined by The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) as:
“instrumental in the pursuit and advancement of knowledge and constitutes an exceptionally rich cultural and scientific asset for both individual and society.” (34)
In my view, tertiary education is a transmission of knowledge to those people who have a burning desire or thirst to develop their personal and intellectual abilities. According to University of Canada, tertiary education is:
“a key to both individual and collective empowerment [and] involving not only the transmission of knowledge and the acquisition of skills but an awareness of the self and a capacity and a will to effect change” (35)
This clearly suggests that a refugee who is able to further his/her education will be able to deal with their trauma associated with forced or involuntary displacement. As noted above, vocational education is crucial to acquiring skills that will enable them to work, integrate in host communities, and secure a life of dignity. In this respect, the Supreme Court of South Africa noted with concern that:
“the freedom to engage in productive work – even where that is not required in order to survive – is indeed an important component of human dignity,…for mankind is pre-eminently a social species with an instinct for meaningful association. Self-esteem and sense of self-worth – the fulfilment of what it is to be human – is most often bound up with being accepted as socially useful.” (36)
Indeed, if refugees and asylum-seekers engage in productive work, they will not be viewed as a burden to a hosting state and they will be respected by members of the local community around them. Tertiary education will, of course, create economic opportunities to allow them to support themselves and to support their families (37). Stiglitz (2002) argues that those who engage in economic activities increase ‘their wellbeing and economic structure and that are able to do are more desirable in a community than those that are not.’ (38) If refugees and asylum-seekers lack a marketable skill and are thus unemployed, they will nonetheless face a variety of problems and pathologies, including domestic violence, divorces, suicides, alcoholism, drug abuse, or engage in criminal activities so as to earn a living. Unlike citizens, refugees and asylum-seekers are not given greater autonomy in their own lives. Their rights are limited to civil rights and, in many cases, these rights are not protected and promoted, notably, positive rights vis socio-economic rights (including education). Hence they have no political muscle, no voice in decision making and can rarely hold government officials accountable; they have inadequate vocational education and employment opportunities. As a result, they are subject to structural poverty and misery. In that, they are deprived what the World Bank Institute termed “endowment of assets,” which encompasses ‘the resources that allow people to use social, political, and economic opportunities; to be productive; and to protect themselves against shocks.” (39) Deprivation of their right to education inhibits the realisation of the potential for self-fulfilment (40).
As discussed above, tertiary education will empower refugees or asylum-seekers to achieve other dynamic development outcomes, including poverty, development of human dignity and personality, understanding tolerance and friendship, maintenance of peace, effective participation in a free society, promotion of gender equality and respect of environment. (41) Above all, tertiary education is a weapon to change a refugee situation and, finally, the primary vehicle by which they can meaningfully engage with various stakeholders, such as hosting communities, local authorities, hosting state government, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and a home country’s government (in the case of a need to return arises). Educated refugees will be able to contribute in finding a durable solution to their problem through litigation and advocacy or through liberation struggle, if their countries of origin continue to be characterised by tyranny, authoritarian, and political repression. In several African countries, former refugees have become heads of state and government, including Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, South Africa to name but few. Based on these instances, it is evident that educating refugees is so important with a view of promoting human rights, culture of democracy, unity, tolerance and reconciliation. This will contribute to a viable and sustainable peace at national, regional and international level. Educating refugees is a part of taking energetic measures to prevent escalation of political or ethnic conflict and to create a stable, viable, progressive, and free society.
Education gives individual’s freedom and dignity. As a tool of empowerment, it enhances the capacity of an individual or individuals to make informed and purposive choices and to transform those choices into desired actions and outcomes (42). The United Nations General Assembly, in its Resolution 319 A (IV) called upon hosting governments to cooperate with the UNHCR and to have refugees situation improved and their dignity restored, if admitted to their territories (43). In reality, refugees cannot depend on ‘hand-out-foods’ or ‘food rations’ rather they must be empowered to be productive and to have control over their lives (44). Refugees must be free to do what they want in accordance with their purposive choices as long as they pursue a legitimate end. In so doing, they will be able to advance themselves, socially and economically.
Sen (1999) has, in his book entitled ‘Development as Freedom’, emphasised that poverty is a result of deprivation of opportunities to expand one’s abilities or to do what one is capable of doing rather than having a low income (45). He further calls lack of economic accessibility (i.e. socioeconomic rights and benefits) unfreedom and argued that economic unfreedom can, in the form of extreme conditions of poverty, make an individual helpless prey in the violations of other kinds of freedoms.’ (46) Within this context, such individual might even not be free to assert his or her rights through litigation. If refugees cannot access either basic or tertiary education, it will increase their social and economic hardship and will slow their integration in local communities. The situation like this will of course impose an uneven burden on hosting communities and will, to a certain extent, contribute to local’s xenophobic attitude, intolerance, stereotypes, prejudice or antagonism towards refugee community.
Certainly, refugees will not be able to turn their basic rights into entitlement if they are not educated because they will of course not be aware of their rights in a hosting state. In this human rights era, both human and community development is approached on the basis of framework of rights to achieve socioeconomic progress and a dignified living. In this context, refugee and asylum-seeker communities can be socially and economically advanced if the issue of their education is given priority. In prioritising refugee education, a hosting state will be, enormously and directly, responding to issues that contribute to a deterioration of security, law, and order in a refugee hosting areas.
(1) Kavuro (2013a:22).
(3) GA, Resolution 429(V), of 14 December 1950.
(4) GA, Resolution 2198 (XXI), of 16 December 1967.
(5) Article 22(1) of the 1951 Refugee Convention.
(6) Ibid: Article 22(2).
(7) According to various literatures, hosting nations are reluctant to extend the distribution of national resources to refugees and asylum-seekers. In particular, The Addis Ababa Document on Refugees and Forced Population Displacement in Africa of 1994, in its paragraph 13 and 14, affirms that the institution of asylum and the system of refugee protection are under tremendous stress in Africa. In a number of countries, the basic principles of refugee protection are not upheld and many refugees have not been able to enjoy civil rights, including socioeconomic rights. Due to a global recession and the increased number of refugees and humanitarian assistance worldwide, the international community’s financial and material support to lighten the burden has diminished.
(8) Chapman, Miller, Soares & Samuel (2005:16); Von Broembsen (2012:2); and Nyamu-Musembi (2005:43).
(9) Nyamu-Musembi (2005:43).
(10) UDHR, GA Res 217A (III), UN Doc A/810 at 71 (1948).
(11) 6ILM 360 (1967); 993 UNTS 3, adopted on 16 December 1966.
(12) Article 1(a) of UNESCO’s 1974 Recommendation Concerning Education for International Understanding, Co-operation and Peace and Education relating to Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms.
(13) Economic and Social Council, ‘The right to education (Art. 13): .12/08/1999.’ E/C.12/1999/10. (General Comment) para 1.
(14) Weis (1954:199): Civil rights – but not political rights – are entrenched under the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees as a minimum standard of treatment.
(15) Kavuro (2013b:42).
(16) Weis (1954:193-4).
(17) Adepoju (2003:9).
(18) Landau & Monson (2008:321).
(19) Louis, Duck, Terry, Schuller & Lalonde (2007:54).
(20) Düvell & Jordan (2002); Adepoju (2003); Khan (2007), Louis et al (2007) and Landau & Monson (2008).
(21) Hawkins (1974:141); Kofman (1993:395); Düvell & Jordan (2002:498); Lubbers (2003:1); Khan (2007:10); and Kavuro (2013a:25).
(22) Kreister (2002).
(23)Governing Body of the Juma Musjid Primary School & Others v Essay N.O. and Others (CCT 29/10)  ZACC 13; 2011 (8) BCLR 761 (CC) (11 April 2011), para 42.
(24) Essay supra (n14) para 43. See also article 29(1)(a) of the United Convention on the Rights of the Child, 28 ILM 1456 (1989), (the Child Rights Convention).
(25) Article 29(1)(d) of the Child Rights Convention.
(26) Ibid: Article 29(1)(e).
(27) Article 22(2) of the 1951 Refugee Convention.
(28) For example, Essay supra (n14), para 14: In terms of South African Constitution, the right to basic education is immediately releasable. There is no internal limitation that right requiring that the right be progressively realised within available resources subject to reasonable measures.
(29) Article 28(1)(a) of the ICESCR.
(30) Article 26(1) of the UDHR.
(31) Article 28(1)(b) of the ICESCR.
(32) Ibid: Article 28(1)(b).
(33) In his Thesis, Kuvuro (2013b) demonstrates how South African government excludes refugees from student financial assistances schemes on the ground of their foreign national status. As foreign nationals, they are required to cover their fees irrespective of their economic status.
(34) Research Division: Cultural Rights in the Case-law of the European Court of Human Rights, January 2011.
(35) Peterson (2011:112).
(36) The Minister of Home Affairs and Others v Watchenuka and Another 2004 (4) SA 326 (SCA), para 27.
(37) Dryden-Peterson (2003:3).
(38) Stiglitz (2002:9).
(39) World Bank Institute (2007:viii).
(40) Watchenuka supra para 32.
(41) Kavuro (2013b:49).
(42) World Bank Institute (2007: viii).
(43) Article 2(b)-(c) of the Statute of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (1950).
(44) Dryden-Peterson (2003:14) and Kavuro (2013b:44).
(45) Sen (1999:8).
(46) Ibid at 20.
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International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, 6ILM 360 (1967); 993 UNTS 3, adopted on 16 December 1966, entered into force on 3 January 1976.
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