Migrant and forcibly displaced children and youth can face specific barriers in accessing education related to their migration and legal status and their right to and support for socio-economic inclusion.
This collection focuses on children and youth who have migrated for economic reasons, alone or with their families (migrants); who are forcibly displaced (IDPs); at risk because of their lack of nationality (stateless); or who have returned to their country of origin after being forcibly displaced in another country (returnees).
While there is no formal legal definition of an international migrant, most experts agree that an international migrant is someone who changes his or her country of usual residence, irrespective of the reason for migration or legal status. Generally, a distinction is made between short-term or temporary migration, covering movements with a duration between three and 12 months, and long-term or permanent migration, referring to a change of country of residence for a duration of one year or more.
In June of 2019, 271.6 million people were international migrants, 28.4 million, or 14 percent, of which were under the age of 20. Collected data show that immigrants are likely to leave education early. In 2017, 19% of foreign-born people aged 18 to 24 in the European Union had left school early, compared to 10% of natives.
Internally displaced person (IDP)
An individual forced to flee from their home or place of habitual residence, who has not crossed an internationally recognized state border.
In 2018, a total of 28 million new displacements were recorded in 148 countries and territories. Of these, 10.8 million new displacements caused by conflict were recorded in 42 countries and 17.2 million new displacements caused by natural hazard-induced disasters in 146 countries. As of the end of 2018, 41.3 million people were recorded as displaced due to conflict and violence in 55 countries monitored by IDMC. The exact number of children living in internal displacement worldwide is unknown, but there were estimated to be over 17 million at the end of 2018, as a result of conflict and violence, and millions more due to disasters. There is a serious lack of education-related data on IDP children and youth.
A person who is not considered a national by any State under the operation of its law (1954 Convention on the Status of Stateless Persons). Not all stateless persons are displaced. While some people are born stateless, others become stateless over the course of their lives.
Data reported by UNHCR for the year 2017 reports 3.9 million stateless people globally. This is an increase as compared to the previous year, where a total of 3.2 million stateless people were recorded in the statistics (UNHCR). Lack of data is a significant challenge in addressing statelessness and UNHCR estimates that at least 10 million people are stateless worldwide.
A person who was of concern to UNHCR when outside his/her country of origin and who remains so, for a limited period (usually two years), after returning to the country of origin. The term also applies to internally displaced persons who return to their previous place of residence.
During 2018, the number of refugees who returned to their countries of origin stood at 593,800. This constitutes a decline compared with 667,400 in 2017, especially given that the refugee population has continued to increase. Returns to Syria constituted the largest such number in 2018, with 210,900 refugees returning, mostly reported from Turkey (177,300). Refugees returned to 37 countries of origin from 62 former countries of asylum during 2018, as reported by UNHCR offices and after reconciliation of departure and arrival figures.
Barriers to refugees and asylum seekers’ education are dealt with in a separate collection which is specifically on forced displacement across borders.
Refugee: A person who, owing to well-founded fear of persecution for one of a number of specific reasons contained in the 1951 Refugee Convention, is outside the country of his/her nationality, and is unable or unwilling to avail himself or herself of the protection of that country.
While all refugees fall under the protection mandate of UNHCR, Palestine refugees have a dedicated UN Agency, UNRWA (United Nations Relief and Works Agency). Palestine refugees are defined as “persons whose normal place of residence was Palestine during the period 1 June 1946 to 15 May 1948, and who lost both home and means of livelihood as a result of the 1948 conflict.”
Asylum seeker: A person seeking international protection whose claim for refugee status has not yet been determined.
Forced Displacement and Education
Migration and displacement interact with education in many ways. Lack of access to inclusive and equitable education and the quality of education affect those who move, those who stay, those who return and those who host immigrants, refugees or other displaced populations.
Internal migration mainly affects many rapidly urbanizing middle income countries, such as China, where more than one in three rural children are left behind by migrating parents. International migration mainly affects high income countries, where immigrants make up at least 15% of the student population in half of schools. It also affects sending countries: more than one in four countries witness at least one-fifth of their skilled nationals emigrating.
Displacement mainly affects low income countries, which host 10% of the global population but 20% of the global refugee population, often in their most educationally deprived areas. More than half of those forcibly displaced are under age 18.
Teachers have to deal with multilingual classrooms; language barriers for these children and youth is often a major obstacle in accessing and succeeding in education. Trauma affecting migrant and displaced students and the impact it has on their education, the challenge of recognition of qualifications and prior learning (GEM Report, 2019) are other major obstacles. Additionally children and youth from these groups frequently suffer discrimination on the basis of their ethnicity, religion or simply being displaced/migrants/refugees.
Education also affects migration and displacement. Education is often a major driver in the decision to migrate. Domestically, those with tertiary education are twice as likely to migrate as those with primary education; internationally, they are five times as likely. Education affects not only migrants’ attitudes, aspirations and beliefs but also those of their hosts. Increased classroom diversity brings both challenges and opportunities to learn from other cultures and experiences. Appropriate education content can help citizens critically process information and promote cohesive societies; conversely, inappropriate content can spread negative, partial, exclusive or dismissive notions of immigrants and refugees (GEM Report, 2019).
In spite of the differences in terms of legal status for all of these groups (migrants, IDP’s, stateless and returnees) and the different reasons for leaving their country of origin, the barriers to education are often similar. Moreover, monitoring access to education for these groups is a barrier in itself, given the difficulties in collecting data disaggregated by migration and displacement status.
Barriers to Education
While many countries grant access to basic education for children of irregular migrants (UNESCO, 2017), the type of migration strongly influences the legal barriers migrant students might face; irregular migrants, unaccompanied children, stateless children, children without identity documents, and seasonal migrants face more barriers. Countries take different approaches to this. In some countries, such as Malaysia, irregular migrants are legally barred from government schools, while in other contexts undocumented children may find themselves unable to enrol, despite having a legal entitlement (Lumayag, 2016; Insan Association, 2015).
In particular, undocumented children face obstacles in accessing education: children lose their documents or have them confiscated during their displacement, and without them children are often unable to enrol in school. Another challenge is keeping unaccompanied minors in school, even with legislation and policies to move them out of detention swiftly and protect their rights to education unaccompanied minors lack the support systems of parents or guardians and face many challenges in both accessing and staying in school. In practice, statelessness often excludes children from education. In some cases, stateless children may be able to attend primary school but most will not be able to pursue their studies beyond primary because lack of documentation will prevent them from taking the national exam and graduating to the next level. Where there are no formal barriers to higher education, undocumented children may face other obstacles to secondary and higher education such as travel restrictions imposed on stateless people or discriminative or arbitrary practices in the allocation of scholarships. The multiple deprivations resulting from statelessness pass on from one generation to the other.
Socio-economic and financial pressures also impact upon forcibly displaced and migrant children and youth inclusion in education systems. Children and youth may be engaged in labour, either to meet their own needs or those of their family, or due to trafficking or forced labour. Under these circumstances, children are unlikely to attend school (Child Protection Working Group (CPWG), 2015). Displacement also often means losing livelihoods and income; many displaced families struggle to cover the cost of school fees, uniform and classroom supplies.
The language of instruction can act as a major barrier to students’ integration, even if they are enrolled and attending school. It is estimated that around 40% of the global population does not have access to education in a language that they speak or understand, an issue that mainly concerns countries with a high diversity of languages (Walter and Benson, 2012). Schools also have to adapt to their new students’ needs. Displaced Quechua-speaking children in Peru, for example, were unable to understand or communicate with their Spanish-speaking teachers, resulting in high levels of non-attendance and illiteracy, particularly among girls.
Parallel education systems
Displacement often places huge strains on already inadequate educational infrastructure, and when displaced children do attend school in many cases it is through a parallel system. A parallel system is one which runs alongside the formal education system. Parallel education systems often offer unregulated non-formal or informal education; tend not to have qualified teachers or offer certified examinations and risk having their funding cut at short notice. Experience has shown that inclusion of all children into host country national education systems is the best way to provide inclusive and equitable quality education.
Challenges around social and cultural norms and expectations around attending school for both boys and girls affects access, attendance and retention. For girls in particular, social and cultural norms around attending alongside boys and male teachers; a lack of female teachers, and inadequate learning facilities (including sufficient appropriate WASH facilities and access to hygiene products), early pregnancy and/or marriage, and security or personal safety concerns all present barriers to education.
This collection was developed with the support of the UNHCR Education team.