Equality is unfair
Despite what may be popular or in vogue with a nigh immeasurable number of people in our world, equality is not always right, fair, or even actually equal! On the surface level, this statement may sound rather confrontational or even adverse to the largely global fight for equality, but when it is thought of in the context of refugees, asylum seekers, stateless people and other Persons of Concern (POCs), one discovers very quickly that more thought (very intentional, contextual and careful thought) must be given to it.
Most of the focus in refugee and POC inclusion tends to lean more towards economic inclusion, and this makes perfect sense, inarguably so. They (refugees and POCs) must come to a place of self-sustainably! But one thing we do not seem to focus on quite enough is education for these concerned groups of people; both higher education for the adults, but also especially early-stage education (from pre-school to tertiary) for their children. This article does not posit an argument on the scarcity or absence of policies for inclusion within the refugee and POC space in host countries around the world, because these policies already exist in most host nations. On the contrary, it is an argument on how starkly disjointed the bridge between policy and action is, and how countries and policymakers should perhaps concentrate more on equality of outcome in the refugee and POC space, as opposed to equality of opportunity.
Equality of opportunity
Under the auspices of International Law, every refugee below the age of 18 years is entitled to an education. International Law is certainly a force to be reckoned with, and we know that several refugee and POC host nations also have their own in-house laws and policies that support refugee and POC integration, and this integration also falls under the purview of formal education. So why are there pervasively low numbers of refugees that actually make it to school? Especially after so many years of integrating these communities, what is the crux of the matter?
The United Nations News reports that only 34% of refugee children around the world attend secondary school: “According to UNHCR data gathered in 40 countries, the 2019-2020 gross secondary level enrolment rate for refugees stood at only 34 per cent.“ (Critical Gaps in Refugee Education, Only 34 per cent attend Secondary, 2021)
Turkey, the world’s largest refugee host nation, is home to over 3.7 million refugees predominantly from Syria. Out of this number, a tad over 1.2 million of them are children. So what are the numbers on how many of these children are in school? So far, 35.8% of refugee children (in Turkey) who are illegible are not in school. Evidently, there are a few chief reasons why many of these children are not in school; reasons that allude to the issue of the system of equality of opportunity in refugee education. 66% of the refugee families of these children stated that they had no intentions of having their children in school; 28% of those families said it was because of financial constraints. 12% reported that it was due to their child’s disability, and 23% said their child/children were now employed. Recall, 35.8% of refugees in Turkey are not in school, and 28% of them are home due to financial constraints (according to their families). That is a jarring figure!
In juxtaposition, in Ghana, the laws of the land state that refugees and other POCs have the right to education (amongst other rights) similarly as Ghanaian nationals do. In the nation’s bid to merge policy with action, the cost of education has been subsidised for refugees so that they are not required to pay fees as foreigners but as Ghanaians; again, employing the use of equality of opportunity. Despite these efforts, so many refugees are still not able to attend school in Ghana because they simply cannot afford it. We must take into account that these refugee families are very seldom formally or gainfully employed, and so naturally, subsidised education fees are still too high for them. Ultimately, these high numbers of refugees and POC children excluded from formal education may eventually go on to cultivate and create an entire generation of illiterate or otherwise under-educated young adults; a blow to our future workforce!
Equality of outcome
As a preface, the expulsion of refugees from the UK to Rwanda is a good example of equality of opportunity – what not to do! In the area of social cohesion and integration of refugees and POCs, efforts should really hone in on attending to these issues by devising strategies that focus on outcomes as opposed to the opportunities afforded, regardless, somewhat, of whether or not the people who need these opportunities are able to obtain them entirely or not (as we have seen with refugee education in Ghana and in Turkey).
There are refugee host nations in Africa and Europe that have adopted refugee policies so progressive in fact, that we may say they use models of equality of outcome as opposed to models of equality of opportunity. Refugee integration policy in Uganda has been called some of the most progressive in the world. The Ugandan 2006 Refugee Act and 2010 Refugee Regulations ensure the full and wholesome integration and inclusion of refugees POCs who come to Uganda. These methods are wholesome not only because they treat integration in the areas of education, economic activities, medical care, et cetera, but because there is a heavy focus on social cohesion between Ugandan citizens and refugees; par example, the land that refugees are given to farm on is land from the host community members themselves. The Ugandan outcomes approach to refugee inclusion and integration has nothing to do with capacity. The country hosts circa 1.5 million refugees and is the largest refugee host nation in Africa and part of the top 5 refugee host nations. So perhaps Uganda and the select few EU countries have something to teach other host nations apropos equality of outcome in refugee and POC integration.
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