Forced to Flee. Displaced with a Dream. Time for Action.

By Yasmine Sherif
UNITED NATIONS, Dec 6 2019 – Genesis smiles and holds her hand up proudly to answer questions in class. She claps her hands in support of her classmates when they answer the teachers’ questions correctly. “I miss my cousins and aunts in Venezuela, she says.” Her smile fades and her lips tighten. She struggles to hold back her tears. “I can’t return. I want to stay here in my school, with my new friends.” Her smile returns, as she resolutely states: “I want to become a lawyer, so I can help solve problems.”

Genesis is too serious for her 12 years of age. Like millions of displaced children, she suffers from being uprooted and she dreams of solving problems that no one that young should ever experience. Genesis is at a crossroads.

We can ensure she takes the road of a continued quality education that offers her a pathway towards achieving her dream. Without our support, she will be forced the other way, risking to succumb to the very problems she wants to resolve: conflict, violence and abject poverty.

Genesis is one of the millions of forcibly displaced children around the globe. She attends class at the ‘Centro Etnoeducativa Indigena’ school in Maicao, in northern Colombia. The school is supported by World Vision through Education Cannot Wait’s First Emergency Response investment implemented by Save the Children, PLAN, IRC and World Vision.

As we leave Genesis, we are acutely aware of the urgent need for funding to allow her to continue her education. Education Cannot Wait’s US$7 million emergency support to the region – without which Genesis would not have gone to school – will come to an end in June 2020.

The urgency for continued funding prompted ECW, UNICEF, Save the Children and INEE to conduct a joint mission to Colombia and Ecuador. These are two of the countries at the heart of the Venezuelan regional crisis, which is projected to be the world’s largest forced displacement crisis in 2020 – exceeding the Syrian crisis.

The mission concluded that Education Cannot Wait must seek to extend its support through a multi-year investment for quality education. Today, the ECW Executive Committee approved this recommendation. Now, ECW and partners have to mobilize the resources.

The Regional Refugee and Migrant Response Plan for 2020 calls for US$1.35 billion, of which US$57.1 million (4 per cent of the total appeal) is required to deliver quality education to 244,000 children, only 17 per cent of the actual number of children in need.

Yet, how do we mobilize this amount for one crisis for one year, alone? And how do we explain a failure to respond to those minimum requirements to Genesis?

Globally, a total of 68.5 million people are forcibly displaced, of whom over half are children in need of an adequate education. Of this number, 25.9 million are refugees, including some 13 million children.

The majority of refugee children struggle with disrupted or poor education, 75 per cent of adolescents do not attend secondary school and 3.7 million refugee children are completely out-of-school.

Beyond the Venezuelan regional crisis, forcible displacement continues to grow in the Sahel region of Africa, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Syria and Ethiopia, just to mention a few.

In the Arab region, despite representing just 5 per cent of the global population, the Arab states account for 32 per cent of the global refugee population and 38 per cent of the internally displaced global population.

In the same vein, the number of people across the globe who need humanitarian assistance is rapidly escalating with a total of 168 million people (of whom over half are children). The total financial requirements for one year alone amount to nearly US$29 billion, according to the just launched Global Humanitarian Overview 2020.

168 million people on our globe are dependent on humanitarian aid! How is this possible in the 21st century? What have we done to our world? What are we leaving to the next generation as our legacy? It is time to act. If not now, when?

In two weeks, the world will gather in Geneva for the Global Refugee Forum. Will this be an opportunity to turn the tide, at least for the millions of refugee children and youth forced to flee, yet holding on to a dream?

Let us hope that the Global Refugee Forum becomes a turning point for action. That leaders see things from afar and within, and recognize the relation between themselves, those in need and universal values.

These are values grounded in international law and manifested in political will to action. Because in resolving problems of human suffering in the face of conflict and forced displacement one has to translate values into action. This means comprehensive action matched by financing to produce sustainable outcomes.

Together with our partners in the United Nations, host-governments, strategic donors, civil society and private sector, Education Cannot Wait has just reached close to 2 million girls and boys. Another 7 million children and youth must be reached by 2021.

In Uganda, the government just announced that the Education Cannot Wait investment in the Response Plan for Refugees and Host Communities for South Sudanese refugees is a success-story. Still, another $80 million will be required in 2020 for Uganda alone to prevent disruption of this positive model.

Indeed, much more needs to be done. To deliver on the Education Cannot Wait target of quality education to 9 million children and youth in forced displacement and protracted crisis by 2021, US$1.8 billion is required.

Is it possible? Yes, provided that we are driven by the same intense desire as Genesis: that all we want to do is to solve problems, alleviate human suffering and empower the next generation.

The Global Refugee Forum may be the test.