“Refugees can change the world by having access to education,” says Alnarjes Harba, a Syrian refugee who recently shared her story at the 2022 Migration Summit, a unique global gathering to address the challenges facing faced by displaced communities. in access to education and employment.
At the age of 13, Harba was moved to Lebanon, where she graduated at the top of her high school class. But because of her refugee status, she recalls, no university in her host country would accept her. Today, Harba is a researcher in healthcare architecture. She holds a bachelor’s degree from Southern New Hampshire University, where she was part of the Global Education Movement, a program that provided pathways for refugees to higher education and work.
Like many participants at the Migration Summit, Harba shared her story to draw attention not only to the barriers to refugee education, but also to the opportunities to create more pathways from education to employment. such as the MIT Refugee Action Hub (ReACT) certificate programs for displaced people. learners.
Organized by MIT ReACT, the MIT Abdul Latif Jameel World Education Lab (J-WEL), Na’amal, the Karam Foundation and Paper Airplanes, the Migration Summit sought to center the voices and experiences of those most directly affected by displacement – both in narratives about the crisis and in the search for solutions. Under the theme “Education and Workforce Development in Displacement”, this year’s summit welcomed over 900 participants from over 30 countries, for a total of 40 interactive virtual sessions led by displaced learners. , educators and activists working to support communities on the move.
The sessions highlighted the experiences of refugees, migrants and displaced learners, as well as current efforts in the education and workforce development landscape, ranging from pK-12 initiatives to post-secondary programs. , from workforce training to entrepreneurship opportunities.
Overcoming Barriers to Access
The vision for the Migration Summit was partly born out of the need to raise awareness of the long-standing global displacement crisis. According to the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), 82.4 million people worldwide are now forcibly displaced, a figure that does not include the approximately 12 million people who have fled their homes. in Ukraine since February.
“Refugees don’t just leave their country; they leave behind a thousand memories, their friends, their families,” says Mondiant Dogon, human rights activist, refugee ambassador and author who gave the keynote speech at the Migration Summit. “Education is the most important thing that can happen to refugees. This way we can leave the refugee camps behind and build our own independent future.
Yet, as the stories of summit participants highlight, many displaced people have lost their livelihoods or had their education interrupted – only to face new challenges when trying to access education or find work in their new place of residence. Obstacles range from legal restrictions, language and cultural barriers and unaffordable costs to lack of verifiable references. UNHCR estimates that only 5% of refugees have access to higher education, compared to a global average of 39%.
“There is another problem with forced displacement: the dehumanization of migrants,” says Lina Sergie Attar, founder and CEO of the Karam Foundation. “They are unfairly positioned as enemies, as a threat.”
But as Blein Alem, an MIT ReACT alumnus and refugee from Eritrea, explains: “Nobody chooses to be a refugee – it just happens. Whether through conflict, war, human rights abuses, just having refugee status does not mean you are unwilling to change your life and access education and at work. Several participants, including Alem, shared that even with a degree in hand, their refugee status limits their ability to work in their new country of residence.
Displaced communities face complex and structural challenges in accessing education and workforce development opportunities. Due to the varied and wide-ranging effects of displacement, efforts to address these challenges vary in scale and focus and differ from sector to sector. As Lorraine Charles, co-founder and director of Na’amal, pointed out during the closing session of the Migration Summit, many organizations find themselves working in silos, even competing for funding and other resources. As a result, the search for solutions has been fragmented, with persistent gaps between different sectors that, in fact, are working towards the same goals.
Imagine a modular, digital and collaborative approach
A key element of the month’s discussions is therefore the need to rethink the response to the challenges of refugee education and the workforce. During the session “From Intentions to Impact: Decolonizing the Refugee Response,” participants highlighted the systemic nature of these challenges. Yet formal responses, such as the 1951 Refugee Convention, have been largely inadequate – in some cases even oppressing the communities they are meant to support, says Sana Mustafa, director of partnerships and engagement for Asylum. Access.
“We have the opportunity to rethink the way we handle the situation,” Mustafa says, calling for more efforts to include refugees in the design and development of solutions.
Presenters also agreed that educational institutions, particularly universities, could play a vital role in providing more pathways for refugees and displaced learners. The key to this is to rethink the structure of education itself, including its delivery.
“The current challenge is that degrees are monolithic,” says Sanjay Sarma, vice president of MIT Open Learning, who gave the keynote on “Pathways to Education, Livelihoods, and Hope.” . “They are like those gigantic boulders at Stonehenge or other megalithic sites. What we need is a much more granular version of education: bricks. Bricks were invented many thousands of years ago, but we don’t really have that formally and widely in education yet.
“We cannot accommodate thousands and thousands of refugees face to face,” says Shai Reshef, founder and president of People’s University. “The only way is a digital way.”
Ultimately, says Demetri Fadel of the Karam Foundation, “We really need to think about how to create a vision of education as a right for every person everywhere.”
Many conclusions of the Summit on Migration are based on the realization that there is still much to do. However, as summit co-chair Lana Cook said in her closing remarks, “this was not a meeting of desperation, but a meeting about what we can build together.”
Summit organizers are currently preparing a public report on key findings that emerged from the month’s conversations, including recommendations for thematic working groups and future Summit activities on migration.