‘Post-2015 Development Agenda’: Invest in Refugee Education to Expand Human Capacity

David Dickson, Global Education MagazineDavid Dickson

Executive Director-Kenya at International Council for Education

[email protected]


An analysis of the Programme of Action of the 1994 United Nations International Conference on Population and Development and the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) leads one to conclude that it is difficult to assess the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) for refugees because “refugees are not explicitly addressed in the MDGs.”

Now the Post-2015 Development Agenda (CIGI/KIDI, 2012) special report has recommended, among other steps, that “inclusive growth” be fundamental to enhancing global development.

It is the obligation of governments and the International Community to both ensure the socio-economic well-being of refugees and their protection. And as such, efforts must be made to properly include them in the MDGs.

Realizing Education MDGs for refugees is where the race begins. Because, as the special report rightly points out: Education is “an enabling factor to achieve other development goals.” This will not only benefit refugee host countries with additional skilled labor force, but will also give refugees an opportunity to choose peace, which is critical for sustainable development.

I spent more than 10 years assisting refugees in Thailand from 1996-2007. Education was one of the key strategies I employed to enhance refugee protection, especially in a quest for durable solutions. During these years, I observed with keen interest that virtually all refugees believe their problems can be largely solved by acquiring a quality education.

For example, Princess Maha Chakri of Thailand is of the opinion that Thailand’s crucial contribution to the future of Burma should be to educate Burmese migrants and refugees. She asks: Considering the critical role played by education in building peace in our societies, “can we afford not to do it?”

Refugee Education, Julie:NCCM, Global Education Magazine
    Refugee Education 2, Julie:NCCM, Global Education Magazine

Photos Resource: Julie/NCCM 

Perhaps the Migrant Children’s Schools in Mae Sot, a network of seven schools that provided education to more than 600 children from Burma along the Thai-Burma border, which began in 2001 under the auspices of the National Catholic Commission on Migration (NCCM), might provide a hint as to the answer to the foregoing question.

The management of the NCCM believed education to be the only hope that Burmese people could embrace with certainty.

“Most of us here at one time believed in the power of the gun. We fought in the jungle and lost many of our friends—but nothing seems to change except the number of people dying and fleeing Burma into Thailand… now, nothing gives me more hope about my country’s future than to see these children’s determination to study; some walk for more than eight kilometers to attend school. And watching children of various ethnicity and religion study and play together as one people give us the reason to be optimistic about our country’s future,” said Moses, one of the Karen fighters in Thailand.

Refugee Education 3, Julie:NCCM, Global Education Magazine     Refugee Education 4, Julie:NCCM, Global Education Magazine

Photos Resource: Julie/NCCM 

Mrs. Anabela Briggs, a former British volunteer for NCCM observed: “On our way back from visiting the Mae Sot Border Schools, I thought about the incredible faith these kids have in education; anything that looks like knowledge is precious to them—even the study materials we consider to be outdated. This helped me to perceive education as the answer to the difficult question of Burma. If only we can all begin believing with these kids and allocate more resources and efforts in their education, we will be doing more to shape Burma’s future than put our faith in economic sanctions against the junta.”

Lithuania tells the following story on how refugee hosting countries can involve themselves positively in shaping the future of refugee producing countries through supporting refugees through education.

Valdas Adamkus, a former refugee in the US,was inaugurated president of his homeland—Lithuania—in February 1998. According to the Associated Press, this would not have been possible were it not for the opportunity he received in the US, where he studied Engineering and “became a top administrator with the Environmental Protection Agency” in Chicago.

In a country that had been wracked by civil war for many years, Valdas’ inauguration brought renewed hope for peace and economic prosperity to the Lithuanian people.

“All this is so great. I feel like the whole world is watching Lithuania now,” a 31 year-old Jonas Macijauskas was quoted by the Associated Press.

Indeed, Valdas Adamkus, the president-elect, did not disappoint people like Jonas who attended his inauguration ceremony.

“The primary and common duty of all of us assembled here today is to consolidate people’s confidence in their state…so the people feel sure of their future and their possibilities to realize their freedoms and their rights,” the Associated Press reported.

On matters relating to peace and international security the president added, “The main goal of Lithuania’s foreign policy remains the same—the European Union and NATO. I shall strive [for] Lithuania to join these organizations during my term in office.”

With my many years of experience directing activities in a refugee setting, I have no doubt that the most important assistance that can be provided those displaced from the ancestral homes, is to help them obtain an enabling education. With this conclusion, it would seem more than appropriate that the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) should include strong statements about the significance of assistance in refugees obtaining an education.

Video link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EC82gJMxSfc


This article was published on June 20th: World Refugee Day in Global Education Magazine.

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