The National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers has highlighted the appalling impact of the global refugee crisis on the world’s children and young people, especially in terms of education.

At the UK Trades Union Congress’ Congress in Brighton on 14 September, the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers (NASUWT) President, Kathy Wallis, urged the Government to play its full part in ensuring all refugee and displaced children are able to access education and are protected from abuse and violence. She made the call while moving a motion on the impact of the refugee crisis on children.

“In the midst of destruction, violence, and instability, schools are a sanctuary, a haven of normality and hope, a place of learning and opportunity,” she said. “Neglecting a child’s right to education undermines not only their future, but also the future of their societies.”

Lack of education leaves children more vulnerable to exploitation and abuse, including recruitment into armed groups, childlabour and early marriage, Wallis stressed

Not enough spent on education

She highlighted the fact that over half of the 21 million refugees registered with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees are under 18, many travelling unaccompanied. Of these, 3.6 million are school-aged children with no access to education.

Regretting that “despite this desperate situation”, just one per cent of the global humanitarian aid budget is spent on education, she said that “the NASUWT has a proud history of working with our teacher trade union colleagues in areas such as these, providing practical assistance including financial support and training”.

Wallis acknowledged that much more must be done to support refugee and displaced children within their native countries, in neighbouring states, and in the UK.

Peter Thomson, President of the UN General Assembly, addresses the opening segment of the UN high-level summit on large movements of refugees and migrants

Education International attended the United Nations’ General Assembly's first-ever Summit for Refugees and Migrants, which reasserted the need to protect refugees and migrants’ rights, including their right to education.

With more people forced to flee their homes than at any time since World War II, world leaders came together at the United Nations (UN) on 19 September to adopt the New York Declaration. The Declaration expresses their political will to protect the rights of refugees and migrants, to save lives, and share responsibility for large movements of people on a global scale. Education International (EI) was represented at the Summit by EI Deputy General Secretary Haldis Holst, Dennis Sinyolo, Ingrid Convery and Steffen Handall (Union of Education Norway), Jill Christianson and Princess Moss (National Education Association, USA), and Wilson Sossion (Kenya National Union of Teachers).

Commitments and needs

The landmark Declaration contains bold commitments to address current issues and to prepare the world for future challenges in relation to migration. The need to start negotiations leading to an international conference and the adoption of a global compact for safe, orderly and regular migration in 2018 was highlighted. The Declaration includes commitments to:

  • Protect the human rights of all refugees and migrants, regardless of status. This includes the rights of women and girls and promoting their full, equal and meaningful participation in finding solutions
  • Ensure that all refugee and migrant children receive an education within a few months of arrival
  • Prevent and respond to sexual and gender-based violence
  • Support those countries rescuing, receiving and hosting large numbers of refugees and migrants
  • Work towards ending the practice of detaining children in order to determine their migration status
  • Find new homes for all refugees identified by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) as needing resettlement; and expand the opportunities for refugees to relocate to other countries through, for example, labour mobility or education schemes
  • Strengthen the global governance of migration by bringing the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) into the UN system.

UN: Importance of collective action

The UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon, congratulated member states saying, “Today's Summit represents a breakthrough in our collective efforts to address the challenges of human mobility.” The adoption of the New York Declaration will mean that “more children can attend school; more workers can securely seek jobs abroad, instead of being at the mercy of criminal smugglers; and more people will have real choices about whether to move once we end conflict, sustain peace and increase opportunities at home”, he said.

The UN Secretary-General launched a campaign, included in the Declaration, called 'Together – Respect, Safety and Dignity for All'. This will “respond to rising xenophobia and turn fear into hope”, he said, urging “world leaders to join this campaign and commit together to upholding the rights and dignity of everyone forced by circumstance to flee their homes in search of a better life”.

The UN Secretary General and IOM Director-General William Lacy Swing co-signed a new agreement whereby the IOM officially becomes a related organisation of the UN system.

EI: Quality teachers for refugees and migrants

The EI Deputy General Secretary Haldis Holst stressed that “governments must ensure the right to education for all refugee and migrant children and youth”.

Teachers must be adequately and professionally trained, so that they are better able to respond to the refugees’ and migrants’ learning needs, she said, adding that qualifications of refugee and migrant teachers must be recognised.

Holst also spoke at the Speak out for Dignity and Decent Work for Migrants and Refugees event organised by the Global Unions, highlighting the importance of the education of refugee and migrant children and youth, and the need to focus on teachers and other educators.

Global Unions’ concerns

The statement of the Council of Global Unions, of which EI is a member, said the outcome document for the UN high-level meeting addressing large movements of refugees and migrants contain “many positive elements”.

The outcome document “captures the urgency of dealing with the challenge and the need for mobilisation, cooperation and global governance on refugees and migrants”, the statement notes. And it stresses the importance of addressing the particular problems of women and children and of the endemic problems of discrimination, racism, and xenophobia.

Global Unions also acknowledges that the outcome document underlines the importance of education, health care and other public services, as well as the need for full access to social security and other social protections.

The outcome document also highlights the necessity for considerable efforts by governments to act together on the ground, as well as devoting resources to migration, which is an act of political will, the Global Unions statement says.

While Global Unions welcomes the commitment in the outcome document to strengthening global governance of migration and refugees, it highlights that, unlike the UN system, the IOM, while playing an important role in migration, lacks a human rights mandate, authority and legitimacy. It proposes that, as a minimum, at least one UN agency, in particular, the International Labour Organisation, should share that responsibility with the IOM.

On “circular migration”, essentially temporary migration, Global Unions says that “there is often a contradiction between promoting workers’ rights and promoting circular migration”. It insists on the fact that promotion of circular migration should not be part of the Global Compact of 2018. Instead, it should be subject to a realistic and comprehensive examination of its impact on the conditions and rights of temporary migrant workers.

Across the globe, nearly 50 million children have been uprooted, migrating to find a better, safer life, with 28 million forcibly displaced by conflict and violence within and across borders, a new UNICEF study reveals.

Often traumatised by the conflicts and violence they are fleeing, these children face further dangers along the way, including the risk of drowning on sea crossings, malnourishment and dehydration, trafficking, kidnapping, rape and even murder. In countries they travel through and at their destinations, they often face xenophobia and discrimination.

The plight of the children was revealed in UNICEF’s report, released on 7 September, “Uprooted: The growing crisis for refugee and migrant children.” It presents new data on the lives of millions of children and families affected by violent conflict and other crises that make it seem safer to risk everything on a perilous journey than remain at home.

Shocking statistics

“Uprooted” shows that:

  • Children represent a disproportionate and growing proportion of those who have sought refuge outside their countries of birth: they make up about a third of the global population but about half of all refugees. In 2015, around 45 percent of all child refugees under UNHCR’s protection came from Syria and Afghanistan
  • Twenty-eight million children have been driven from their homes by violence and conflict within and across borders, including 10 million child refugees, one million asylum seekers whose refugee status has not yet been determined, and an estimated 17 million children displaced within their own countries – children in dire need of humanitarian assistance and access to critical services.
  • More and more children are crossing borders on their own. In 2015, over 100,000 unaccompanied minors applied for asylum in 78 countries – triple the number in 2014. Unaccompanied children are among those at the highest risk of exploitation and abuse, including by smugglers and traffickers.
  • About 20 million other international child migrants have left their homes for a variety of reasons, including extreme poverty or gang violence. Many are at particular risk of abuse and detention because they have no documentation, have uncertain legal status, and there is no systematic tracking and monitoring of their wellbeing.

The report goes on to explain that children who have left or are forcibly displaced from their homes often lose out on the potential benefits of migration, such as education – a major driving factor for many children and families who choose to migrate. A refugee child is five times more likely to be out of school than a non-refugee child. When they are able to attend school at all, it is the place migrant and refugee children are most likely to encounter discrimination, including unfair treatment and bullying.

Call for action

The UNICEF report highlights six specific actions that will protect and help displaced, refugee and migrant children:

  • Protecting child refugees and migrants, particularly unaccompanied children, from exploitation and violence
  • Ending the detention of children seeking refugee status or migrating by introducing a range of practical alternatives.
  • Keeping families together as the best way to protect children and give children legal status.
  • Keeping all refugee and migrant children learning and giving them access to health and other quality services.
  • Pressing for action on the underlying causes of large-scale movements of refugees and migrants.
  • Promoting measures to combat xenophobia, discrimination, and marginalisation.

With millions of people displaced by war and violence in Africa and the Middle East, the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) has vowed to reach out a helping hand, advocating for the resettlement of thousands of immigrants and for their protection against bigotry and persecution.

AFT delegates passed a resolution restating the organization’s opposition to hate speech and encouraging programs that teach children about the rich immigrant experience, diversity, religious tolerance and peaceful conflict resolutions.The union calls upon community schools to provide the support and wraparound services that immigrant families need, including educational resources and comprehensive integration programs, such as language immersion, socio-psychological services and basic healthcare, counseling and mentoring.

The AFT also launched a new classroom resource, “Replacing Fear with Facts: Teaching Islam in the Classroom”, developed by a team of AFT teachers working with Dalia Mogahed (pictured above with AFT President Randi Weingarten), an activist in the drive to combat Islamophobia and promote tolerance in our communities.


Over 1,810 academics from universities across Australia have signed an Open Letter to Prime Minister Turnbull and Members of Parliament, supporting the implementation of the the Academic for Refugees’ policy paper's recommendations, calling for a just and humane approach for refugees. 

The National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU) supports both the Academics for Refugees policy paper and open letter, and encourages those who are yet to put their name to the open letter to do so. 

The Policy Paper recommends that Australia end its harmful policies of offshore processing, boat turnbacks and the mandatory detention of people seeking asylum. 

In particular, it recommends that the Australian government should adopt the following four measures:

  • close immigration detention centres and end mandatory detention;
  • initiate comprehensive law reform to ensure that Australia upholds its international obligations;
  • promote a decent livelihood and thriving communities for people seeking asylum or people who have been granted Australia’s protection; and
  • foster positive and empathetic narratives about people seeking asylum.

In terms of regional and global approaches, the Policy Paper recommends that Australia:

  • work with states in the Asia Pacific region to create a regional framework based on equity, capacity and responsibility; and
  • contribute towards making the international system more sustainable, equitable and humane.

Finally, the Policy Paper calls on the Australian government to convene a National Policy Summit in 2017, bringing together asylum seekers, refugees and former refugees; migrant and refugee advocates; policy experts; community representatives; and politicians from all parties. The Summit should result in constructive policy options and solutions for people seeking asylum that:

  • recognise the need for people to seek a life of safety;
  • recognise and facilitate the positive contributions of refugees to Australia’s communities;
  • respect Australia’s international obligations;
  • reflect a respectful relationship between Australia and its regional neighbours; and
  • recognise Australia’s potential for leadership on this issue. 

The Policy Paper is based on sound scholarly research and was written by several scholars from a variety of disciplines across Australian universities.

On 21-22 November 2016, Education International will organise an international conference on refugees in Stockholm, Sweden, to provide opportunities for affiliates and partners to share experiences and information about initiatives taken at international, national and local levels to enhance the rights of refugee teachers, children, youth and families.