More countries should educate refugees in national schools to help them integrate, the United Nations said on Tuesday, praising Chad and Uganda as poor countries setting an example.
About 4 million child refugees were out of school in 2017, the U.N.’s cultural agency, UNESCO, said, which meant they not only lost their right to education but that host nations also missed a chance to integrate people from different communities.
“Experience suggests that the inclusion processes have been very positive,” said Manos Antoninis, director of UNESCO’s annual Global Education Monitoring Report.
“The longer (refugees) stay separate, the more they feel alienated,” he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
Wars, persecution and other violence drove a record 68.5 million people from their homes in 2017, the majority uprooted inside their own countries while 25 million were refugees, according to the U.N. refugee agency.
World leaders agreed in New York in 2016 to ensure that all refugee and migrant children receive education within a few months of arrival in a host country.
But asylum-seeking children in Australia have limited access to education, Rohingya in Bangladesh can only attend separate, non-formal schools, and many refugees in Africa are confined to camps, making it harder to get jobs afterwards, UNESCO said.
“The hope is that in the future governments all over the world will be more reluctant to exclude refugees and put them in separate schools,” said Antoninis.
Only six in 10 refugee children were enrolled in primary school and one in four in secondary school last year, UNESCO said.
Uganda, which hosts the largest number of refugees in Africa at 1.4 million, brought humanitarian and development agencies together this year to create mixed schools for refugees and host communities, it said.
Chad, which hosts some 450,000 refugees, has developed a temporary education plan for refugees while it adapts the national system to include them, a first in Africa, UNESCO said.
The government has sent Chadian teachers to refugee camps to ease the transition, and this year converted 108 refugee schools into regular public schools that will also benefit locals, said Antoninis.
It has also trained teachers from among the refugee population to be able to teach in Chadian schools, he said.
But education remains a low priority in many places where people have fled conflict, experts said.
“During emergencies, education is not given the attention it deserves as a life-saving intervention,” said Euloge Ishimwe, a spokesman for the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) in Africa.
“Many people do not know that education in emergencies … brings about a sense of normalcy and hope that in itself can empower communities to protect themselves from harm.”