World Refugee Day: refugee rights include education

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Syrian refugee boys in Suruc, Turkey.

Message from Ms Irina Bokova, Director-General of UNESCO

Refugees have rights, starting with the right to education.

The recent World Humanitarian Summit in Istanbul put the spotlight on the extent to which the international community is falling short on fulfilling this right, and the need to act urgently to bridge a dangerous gap that carries repercussions across generations.

This is a humanitarian emergency and a development imperative.

Only 50% of refugee children are estimated to be in primary school, and only 25% in secondary school.  Girls are the most likely to be missing out, reinforcing their marginalization and vulnerability. Refugee children and adolescents are five times more likely to be out of school than their non-refugee peers. 

These are the findings of “No More Excuses” Report, published by the Global Education Monitoring Report and the UN High Commission for Refugees, and they reflect neglect on a wide scale.

We cannot build peace on such exclusion.

These children and youth have been displaced largely as a result of conflict. They have lived through harrowing experiences, separation and loss. On a nearly daily basis over the past year, the world has borne witness to an unfolding tragedy of mass migration‎. 

We are not investing enough in the only response that can bring hope and opportunity: education. 

By simply being in school, children are better protected from trafficking, illegal adoption, child marriage, sexual exploitation and forced labour. They gain a renewed sense of belonging, of stability.


I saw this in Gaziantep, in south-eastern Turkey, a few weeks ago, a city that is home to some 300,000 refugees, the majority under the age of 17. In one of the schools serving 1400 Syrian students, 400 were orphans. I have seen the same across the world, in schools in Jordan on the border with Syria, in Lebanon, in the Baharka camp in Iraq

Girls shared with me their ambitions to become teachers, scientists and doctors. This shows that tragedy has not hijacked their dreams, that education has given them renewed courage and aspiration.  

This represent a microcosm of a global challenge facing countries across Europe, Africa, the Middle East, Asia and beyond.

Exceptional measures are needed to meet the needs of refugee children everywhere. 

The launch of the Education Cannot Wait Fund in Istanbul last month signals ripening global awareness on the urgent need for action now.

It is our collective responsibility to deliver quality education and skills, even in the toughest of circumstances.

This is the meaning of leaving no one behind – the overarching commitment of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. 

On this World Refugee Day, I call upon governments, civil society, the private sector and the international community to take every measure to mobilize resources and find smart solutions to guarantee the access of refugee children and youth to education. This is a moral responsibility and a condition for planting seeds of peace to build a more secure future for all. 

Irina Bokova

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