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Last Updated: 05/04/2012Educating Refugees and the Internally Displaced Persons
Simmering ethno-religious crises, struggles for political power or natural resources, all of which have led to endless human suffering and consequent loss of lives, destruction of properties and displacement of people, demand that we focus on education. In this article, Blessing Ojone Adejoh talks about the importance of education during emergency response.
Every year, thousands of thousands flee or are uprooted from their homes and are forced to resettle either within their countries or across national borders in search of safety or protection. Deprived of their basic rights and entitlements (key among them education), discrimination and harassment becomes an additional burden. Women and children endure double tragedy as apart from being Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) or refugees, they are at a disproportionately high risk of physical attacks, sexual abuse, forceful abduction and recruitment as child soldiers, sex slavery, or death.
Deng (2004), reminds one that the threatening thing about the generalized violence and violation of human right that often leads to displacement of persons is that they are related to acute crises of national identity. Deng argues the crisis of national identity is further complicated in countries where sectarian tension or grievances coupled with economic marginalization are the main drivers to conflict. In this regard, the failure of a state become visible, according to Deng, when it cannot manage conflict to mitigate or contain violence, protect its citizenry and be able to provide both social amenities and other development opportunities. In other words, “instances when the capacity to respond to crises disappears or diminishes to a minimal standard” (William, 1995) and where in some parts of the country the state capacity to monopolize violence is contested.
Sudan Simmering Crisis
The conflict in Sudan is one that calls for great concern. More than 2.7 million people have fled their homes since the conflict began in the arid western region, and the UN says about 300,000 have died mostly from war and disease. Celik argues that the case of Darfur in Sudan combines the worst of armed conflict, extreme poverty, and sexual abuse. Not to mention the impact of hunger, diseases, and, to top it up, the harsh dessert climate amounting to large number of internally displaced persons. Amnesty International’s latest Annual Report (2011) states that in the Darfur region, thousands of civilians continue to suffer from armed conflict with their plight being complicated by restriction of the humanitarian assistance deliveries not to mention the abductions and attacks on humanitarian convoys with fingers being pointed at Sudan’s National Intelligence and Security Service (NISS). Udombana (2005) states that women and girls are faced with sexual harassment namely; gang rapes, abductions of girls and later held in confinement for several days, and repeatedly raped.
Democratic Republic of Congo Complex Crisis
The history of the Democratic Republic of Congo has been one of civil war and corruption in a vast and rich country in precious minerals, and standards of living among the lowest in the world. According to the UNHR report on the conflict, more than 1.7 million people are internally displaced persons (IDPs), of which about 72,000 people live in spontaneous camps where they are catered for humanitarian relief. Sexual violence remains a great concern, with mass rapes continuing to occur mostly affecting the displaced populations and children regularly being recruited as child soldiers and sex slaves. According to the United Nations, so far about 27,000 sexual assaults were reported in 2006 in South Kivu Province alone, which is a figure that represents only those assaults that were officially reported not to mention those that were not reported.
According to Human Right Watch (1996) an estimated 15,000 women and girl that were detained forcefully in Rwanda ended up being pregnant because they were raped in 1994 genocide.
In the quest of solace in another country as refugees, women are usually faced with the problems of language, discrimination, and documentation. Most women are faced with the problem of having to state their claims to refugee status in a foreign language. Schafer argues that like most of them who hail from countries where French is the official language experience difficulty in trying to substantiate their refugee claim as there less likely than men to speak a third language. Sometimes even when interviewed in French, most women had problems of expression because a lot of the women, compared to men, had less education. The split within the rebel groups have further blurred the lines between the warring parties. Sexual violence is on the increase and many women are afraid to seek treatment because of the fear been stigmatized by their families or enduring further harassment.
Protecting the Venerable and Defenseless
The convention relating to the status of refugees 1951and its 1967 protocol is the only global legal document that covers the important part of the refugees’ life, alongside the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) has the mandate of the General Assembly to protect the rights of refugees. It also has the responsibility to supervise the implementation of the 1951 Convention by States Parties, and the states are likewise required to cooperate with UNHCR, and provide relevant information and statistical data.
The UNHCR report of 2010 estimates that there are about 43.7million refugees and people displaced within their own countries as a result of war and natural disaster. UNHCR believes that it is important to increase the scope of State support for these refugees, ensuring that the protection provided is more universal in scope and the burdens and responsibilities of governments are more equitably distributed and consistently applied. Unlike the case of refugees, in the case of IDPs, the Government is obliged by the human rights convention to protect the rights of all its citizens and ensure that they have access to education. In situations of internal conflict that could be difficult, so at least the Government cannot prevent communities or voluntary organization from assisting them. In terms of education, government policy should be grounded in the Dakar Framework of Action that requires countries to work towards “Education for All”, which means even in emergency situation. Education that is inclusive of all regardless of the situation or circumstance they are in either short-term (within the camp) or long-term, depending on the situation. This has been an issue of great concern for the international community as there is a growing effort to make education a priority during emergency response; it has been widely recognized as the “fourth pillar” of humanitarian assistance in crises situation, along with food, shelter, water, and medicine (Machel 2001).
Importance of Education
The effects of armed conflict go beyond physical destruction, to development setback – not just to the country alone but also for the entire region, as neighboring countries will likely have to accept refugees. Education in emergencies becomes important because of the role it plays in interlinking development and security issues (World Bank, 2003). The process of reconstructing education systems after conflict or disaster, as stated by Sinclair (2002), has been a major challenge for educational planners and managers. It is important to note that crises occur differently and therefore require different approach in terms of planning. However, refugee men and women in most countries are faced with common problems, such as separation from family members and lack of employment, especially because they are not allowed to work in most foreign countries. Refugees legally require resources from both the host countries and international community, while the IDPs suffer in most cases because they are left at the mercy of the state Government and therefore receive less or no assistance from the international community.
Article 22 of the 1951 convention relating to the status of refugees deals specifically with the education of the refugees and the 1967 protocols agrees with that. The convention on the right of a child also specifies that the government should not deny access to education to any child or adolescent on their territory, regardless of what social group they belong to, that also applies to refugees and IDPs. The UNHCR (2011) report argues that access, quality, and protection must be seen as essential in connecting effective policy and programmatic approaches to refugee education.
Education for the IDPs and especially the refugees should incorporate their home curriculum, take cognizance of the language barrier, survival messages (landmine education), health education (protection/prevention) from vulnerable disease like STDs, HIV/AIDS, literacy programme and trauma healing. This could be done through experiential learning that is based on learner experience, teaching and facilitating using discussion and experience sharing to involving community participation (Dicum, 2005). Taking into account Sinclair’s principles of planning education in and after emergency situations, such education can bring about both individual empowerment and a collective sense of belonging. In some African countries, customary laws do not allow women to inherit land and property, so even when they return to their countries of origin, some women (especially widows) are still faced with the problem of how to take care of their families. Access to education during emergency can be seen as a window of opportunity to empower women and to improve the literacy rate. In most cases, women are taught to write and read, and engage in vocational training where they can be taught skills that will not only be useful to them in the camps or host countries, but one that will enable them to be useful to themselves and their community when they return.
Another problem they encounter is the issue of documentation that prevent them from enrolling in schools. Some might be kept out of school for years given the language barrier and discrimination factor. Furthermore, there is also the problem of a lack of teachers, training funds, buildings, and resources for education during emergency situations, which, as Dicum observes, is usually not a high government priority during conflict.
Education as an Empowering Tool
The Inter-Agency Network for Education in Emergencies has facilitated the development of the minimum standard of education in emergencies. According to Kirk (2002), this should be education that promotes equal access to both boys and girls to enhance literacy and other relevant life skills in an environment that promotes equality in terms of participation and social development. Kirk further argues that the education be geared towards meeting the physical, cognitive, and psychosocial needs of the learners in terms of safe learning space and content of education (safety/survival messages) that is relevant to the context of the situation. Hanemann (2005) holds that education for literacy and adult learning programmes in emergency situations can be empowering, especially when it involves the full participation of the affected population in terms of decision making processes that allows them to be part of the direct action taken on education issues. The impact of literacy and education programme for the refugees especially for women can go a long way in creating awareness of the political and social development which in turn can bring about new identities and life goal as well as improve their life skills not only to the individual alone but to the society at large.
Hanemann draws on several examples of NGO activities that have impacted the lives of IDPs and especially Refugees. Among these is the case of the Guatemalan refugee women in the camp of Mexico who, as a result of the education provided in the camp, were able to learn how to read and write, allowing some to eventually become teachers in their community. Another example is the refugees sponsorship education programme in South Kivu in Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) that support the peace-building process by providing education for conflict management, peace education, training and human rights and justice advocacy, as well as mutual understanding, rehabilitation, and literacy programmes. He also talks about the “ Building Literacy in Sudan with SOLO press project”. In this case they used the confidence-building literacy approach to enable IDPs and Refugees learn to read, write, and to publish their own stories in newsletters, magazines, and books. They also recruited people from camps and settlements and trained them to become Community Liaison Worker (CLW) who in turn trained selected participants and encouraged them to read, write, and edit their own stories as a way of helping them develop self-confidence.
The Road Ahead
In conclusion, the approach of educating for a culture of peace must take into account “the multiple dimensions of conflict and violence” (Cawagas, 2007). Thus, education for emergency situations should be holistic in nature; taking into consideration all sectors both formal and non-formal institutions working together, acknowledging cultural diversity and trying to bring about cultural pluralism through mutual understanding, intercultural and interfaith dialogue, and cooperation and solidarity among people and communities. Education for peace should encourage transformation in communities and global society at large, so that citizens can begin to look beyond their immediate society (micro level) and think critically how they can impact the societies at large (macro level). It also provides the opportunity for schools to revise their curricula to address sensitive issues related to conflict, taking in consideration values (justice, compassion, respect for others, etc.), and gender responsiveness. Finally it’s important to also integrate psychosocial trauma healing, vocational training, disabilities sensitization and empowerment, survival messages and heath care education into the formal and non formal system of education.
References and Notes
Amnesty international Annual report (2011) Accessed on 1, February. http://www.unhcr.org/refworld/docid/4dce153c5.html
Bensalah, K. Sinclair, M., Hadj Nacer, F., Commisso, A., & Bokhari, S. (2000). Education in situations of emergency and crisis: Challenges for the new century. World Education Forum Dakar, Education for All 2000 Assessment. Co-ordinated by SIDA & UNESCO.
Celik, Ayse B. (2005) Transnationalization of Human Rights Norms and Its Impact on Internally Displaced Kurds: Human Rights Quarterly, Volume 27, No.3 Publisher Hopkins University Press. pp. 969-997
Cawagas, Virginia (2007) Pedagogical Principles in educating for a culture of peace. In Toh S.H., & V. Cawagas (Eds.) Cultivating Wisdom, Harvesting Peace. (pp. ). Brisbane, Queensland: Multi-Faith Centre, Griffith University.
Deng, Francis M. (2004) The Impact of State Failure on Migration. Mediterranean Quarterly, Volume 15, No. 4, Published by Duke University Press. Pp. 16-36
Dicum, Julie (2005) (Re) Building a feeling of belonging in complex emergences – Challenges and opportunities in the education of refugee children through the experiences of Afghans in Pakistan. Ethnologies , 27 (1), 55-76.
Human Rights Watch. 1996. Shattered Lives: Sexual Violence during the Rwandan Genocide and Its Aftermath. New York: Human Rights Watch (September).
Howard A. (1999), Modernity, Globalization, Refugees and Displacement, in Refugees: Perspective on the experience of forced Migration pp.83, 89
Kagawa, F. (2007) Whose emergencies and who decides? Insights from emergency education for a more anticipatory Education for Sustainable Development: International Journal of Innovation and Sustainable Development. Pp. 395-413
Kagawa, F. & David Selby. (2009). Climate change education: From a “business as usual” to transformative agenda’, Transitions (electronic resource of Earth and Peace Education Associates International), 4(2): 10-14.
Prunier, G. (1995). The Rwandan Crisis: History of a Genocide. New York: Columbia University Press.
Roberta, C. (1999) Hard Cases: Internal Displacement in Turkey, Burma and Algeria, 6 FORCED MIGRATION REV. 25, 25–26
Schafer, Loveness H. (2002).True Survivors: East African Refugee Women Africa Today, Volume 49, No.2 Published by Indiana University Press. Pp. 29-48
UNHCR 2011 report http://www.unhcr.org/4ebd3dd39.html
William, Zartman (1995), Collapsed States: The Disintegration and Restoration of Legitimate
 Covering diverse formal, non formal, informal educational initiatives to support populations severely affected by conflict, disaster, or instability. Specific target groups includes refugees, IDPs, nonimmigrant, returnees, different gender and age group (e.g., early childhood, primary school age, secondary school age, youth, adolescent, and adult), special need groups (e.g., child soldiers, ex-combatants, disabled children, orphans), and minorities. (Sinclair 2001; UNESCO 2006)
 Specifies that refugees must be admitted to the compulsory stage of education alongside nationals. The state is required to admit refugees to post-compulsory education on conditions no less favorable than those applicable to aliens generally.
 Community participation, analysis, access and learning environment, teaching and learning, teacher, education policy and coordination.
Blessing Adejoh is an MA candidate at the University for Peace.