by Marta Vaquero
Last year, the global refugee figure passed 50 million, the highest number of forcibly displaced people since World War II . The huge number of refugees, asylum-seekers and 1 internally displaced people worldwide, have put a strain on foreign aid budgets and on the hosting capacities of bordering countries. These limitations of foreign aid have led NGO's and the UN, to cut down to the most basic necessities needed to maintain people in a refugee camp; focusing on their survival instead of helping them thrive. The following essay will attempt to discuss the abandonment of refugees, and propose a different method of aid, based on educating and investing in refugees, to facilitate peace and prosperity in their countries, deter the cycle of violence and create a sustainable solution to this problem.
The increasing number of refugees this past year is due to two main factors. Firstly, the ongoing conflicts that fail to achieve a resolution, such as the Somalia civil war (1991-ongoing), which has created 1.12 million refugees so far; or the Burma civil war (1948-ongoing), resulting in 1.49 million refugees as of today. Lastly, to this figures must be added the number of refugees created by new conflicts that have occurred in the past few years, such as the Syrian civil war, responsible for 2.5 million refugees to date, or the Sudanese conflict, responsible for the displacement of approximately 2 million people . Moreover, the situation worsens as time goes by; everyday there are 32,200 new refugees. To put things into perspective, if displaced people had their own country it would be the 24th most populous in the world. According to António Guterres, head of the UN's refugee agency, this data, represents “...the incapacity of the international community firstly to prevent conflicts and secondly, to find solutions to those conflicts."
The most worrying of all is that half of the world's refugees are children and being able to access any form of education is a privilege in their situation. If they do not receive an education, they will become part of a lost and uprooted generation with no means or resources to survive. Melissa Fleming, head of communications for the UN's High Commissioner for Refugees, has been to many refugee camps where she has spoken to several kids who say “education is the most important thing in their lives... because it allows them to think of their future rather than the nightmare of their past.” Education allows them to focus on hope instead of hatred and gives them the abilities to reconstruct their community and bring prosperity to their country in the form of politicians, engineers, doctors and people interested in reconciliation and prosperity.
Making education more accessible for refugees is hard, especially in times of such crisis where there are not enough funds to cover the basic needs of the many victims. However, it is a necessary investment which will be rewarded in the long-term. NGO's should be striving towards more than just helping refugees survive; achieving this by improving education access, offering accelerated learning programs, expanding tertiary education opportunities through scholarships, combining forces with other organizations and working with foreign governments to create more opportunities for resettlement.
Often people think of refugee camps as temporary settlements for displaced communities, where people wait for the war to end so they can go back to their homes. It is this way of thinking that drives many organizations to aid in an unsustainable way, providing a limited amount of food and other necessities as short-term solutions. The average time a refugee will spend in exile is 17 years (Guterres et al -2014- "The Refugee Project - Design and Violence") .
During this time, a sustainable method of aid is needed to ensure a 5 peaceful coexistence and promote self-reliance. In order to maintain a sustainable method of aid, refugee camps must be thought of as safe environments for people, especially children, to access education and create an opportunity for a better future. After all, it is refugees with an education, who provide leadership during displacement and in post-conflict reconstruction. Not investing in the education and forming of the refugees is a missed opportunity as the victims of war may bring innovative methods to achieve lasting peace and promote reconciliation instead of revenge.
Overall, the growing number of refugees has led organizations to invest in short-term aid. However, one must consider whether this type of aid is the most effective, especially taking into consideration that half of the world's refugees are children. I believe organizations should seek for a sustainable type of aid based on education. By providing quality education and academic opportunities, these children will have the chance of a better future. Investing in the education of refugees, will help them prepare them for their return to their communities as agents of positive change and social transformation