Online Program Enrolling Now - Seton Hall - United Nations Institute for Training and Research
Online Program Enrolling Now - Seton Hall - United Nations Institute for Training and Research

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As Refugees Await Their Futures, NGOs Offer New Ways to Help Them Prepare


Children who live in refugee camps have diminished chances to receive a proper education; for adolescents, the choices drop drastically. Yet a range of services is trying to fill these yawning gaps. Rohingyas, above, who have been displaced from their villages in Myanmar to Cox’s Bazar in Bangladesh. CREATIVE COMMONS

As the school year ends in many countries and children turn with joy to vacation time ahead, millions of other school-age children will have nothing to look forward to but more long days in overcrowded refugee camps. The situation gets worse as they grow into adulthood.

Recent studies show that, thanks to United Nations development goals and action by governments, 91 percent of the world’s primary-age children are enrolled in schools while among refugee children in the same age group, the figure drops to 61 percent. Worldwide, 84 percent of adolescents, on average, are in school, compared with 23 percent of adolescent refugees.

At the tertiary level, the number is especially dire, given that young refugees are people who may soon be counted on to rebuild their societies or contribute meaningfully to life in a new country. According to figures compiled by the UN high commissioner for refugees and Unesco, based on 2015-2016 data — when refugee numbers were exploding — 36 percent of young people around the world acquire some kind of tertiary education; for refugees, that number is a trace 1 percent.

UN agencies, NGOs, professional educational organizations, religious-based assistance groups and some companies are involved in trying to close these gaps. From South Asia to the Great Lakes region of Africa, NGOs have often been the first to meet basic survival needs and move on to education. The Swedish Lutheran Church was supporting “underground” schools for girls when the Taliban controlled Afghanistan. In Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda, NGOs have been at the forefront of helping young children fleeing political turmoil and genocidal conflict not only to learn but also to work through their psychological trauma.

Teachers work with the most basic materials, like paper and crayons, encouraging the smallest children to draw pictures of their former lives. Their subjects are often village houses on fire or automatic weapons shooting and people lying dead on the ground. Just the orderly, calm atmosphere of even a rudimentary school experience can help children, volunteers tell reporters who visit camps.

At the other end of the education process, tertiary academic study and professional skills training, online programs have been devised by various organizations to make long-distance learning possible. Some projects are employing well-educated refugees or exiles in creating or teaching courses.

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One example is the refugee learning program from Coursera, an organization founded in 2012 for online study with experts from leading higher education institutions in the United States and abroad.

Coursera’s refugee program, called Transforming Lives through Universal Access to World-Class Education, offers guaranteed financial aid to refugees who take its courses as well as group financial assistance and a portal to connect NGOs and other organizations working with refugees. More than 1,000 courses include a wide range of mostly practical subjects from business English to data science and techniques for interviewing and résumé writing. Coursera is always looking for translators to help reach potential students through its global translator community.

Involving Business in Anti-Trafficking Campaigns Helping Migrants

Desperate people on the move, whether they are fleeing conflict, political upheaval or -crushing poverty, are vulnerable to being preyed on by traffickers, as growing numbers of tragic accounts reveal. The focus of the trade is often on North Africa, where migrants from around the Mediterranean gather in hope of finding passage to Europe.

Several UN agencies have joined a consortium to produce a novel interactive map—a little tricky to navigate at first, to be sure — to assist businesses and others in locating information from a multitude of organizations working against human trafficking. It is part of a campaign to foster more responsibility for the mounting tragedies. Other UN components in the consortium are the International Labor Organization’s Global Business Network on Forced Labor and Human Trafficking and the UN Global Compact. They joined with the Global Business Coalition Against Human Trafficking and the Babson College Global Initiative against Transnational Organized Crime.

At the launch of the initiative in London in May, Sarah Di Giglio, senior policy and project officer on human trafficking and modern slavery at the International Organization for Migration, said that demand for cheap labor and services drives human trafficking.

“Yet, the responsibility of the industries and consumers demanding cheap labor and cheap goods often goes unrecognized,” said Di Giglio, who is also an expert on women seeking asylum. “Until we, the global community, address this demand and recognize that goods are sold cheaply because of the exploitation of workers, including migrant workers, our efforts to end human trafficking will be wholly inadequate.”


We welcome your comments on this article.  What are your thoughts?

Barbara Crossette is the senior consulting editor and writer for PassBlue and the United Nations correspondent for The Nation. She is also a member of the Council on Foreign Relations. She has also contributed to the Oxford Handbook on the United Nations.

Previously, Crossette was the UN bureau chief for The New York Times from 1994 to 2001 and previously its chief correspondent in Southeast Asia and South Asia. She is the author of “So Close to Heaven: The Vanishing Buddhist Kingdoms of the Himalayas,” “The Great Hill Stations of Asia” and a Foreign Policy Association study, “India Changes Course,” in the Foreign Policy Association’s “Great Decisions 2015.”

Crossette won the George Polk award for her coverage in India of the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi in 1991 and the 2010 Shorenstein Prize for her writing on Asia.

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