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Back to School? An Appeal for Children Seeking Refuge

It’s that time of year—both in North America and so many other parts of the world—where children prepare to go back to school. Many enjoyed a lengthy summer holiday with family and friends as they set out on national and international trips, attended camps and vacation Bible schools, spent time in the sun, and took some time to unwind from the previous school year before beginning anew. The carefree days of summer are being replaced with a season of purpose and promise for a better future brought to us by the gift of education. 

It’s that time of year

My social media feed has been filling with adorable pictures of children (and sometimes educators and other school staff!) posing their new clothes, backpacks, maybe even a sign giving information about the child and their age, interests, year in school, etc. I’ve also seen many back to school prayers posted, as well as prayer meetings being organized at churches and in communities. I love it! 

My social media feed has been filling with adorable pictures

Children are truly a blessing, and to cover them in prayer and prepare them for another successful school year is a great way to care for the children in our lives. If you have not taken the time to pray for children who are returning to school, I encourage you to do so now.

Unfortunately, the reality for so many children who have been displaced from their homes and are seeking refuge is much different. The most recent numbers from the UNHCR report that in 2018:

  • There were approximately 7.4 million school age children registered as refugees

  • 4 million refugee children did not attend school

  • 61% of refugee children of primary school age attended school (compared to 92% of children globally)

  • 23% of refugee children attended secondary school (compared to 84% globally)

  • And 1% received higher education (compared to 37% globally)

Statistics for internally displaced children are more difficult to obtain, but this report from UNICEF cites:

  • Over 17 million children were internally displaced by the end of 2018

  • In Iraq, (one of only a few countries where data on internally displaced people has been gathered) only 32% of school age children had access to some form of education in 2015

  • In Bangladesh, cyclical disasters such as storms and floods destroy an average of 900 schools every year

Availability of formal education for asylum seekers is also dire and fluctuates drastically, but this article reports that for the 2017-2018 academic year, less than 15% of the over 3,000 school age child asylum seekers living on the Greek Islands were enrolled in public schools. In Italy (where I worked as a missionary), the law states that asylum seeking children have equal rights and responsibilities to enroll in the public education system, but practically, there are many barriers to enrollment, and discriminatory practices sometimes hinder children from receiving the same services as their native-born peers. 

Availability of formal education for asylum seekers is dire

As Filippo Grandi, UN High Commissioner for Refugees, states, “Without education, the future of these children and their communities will be irrevocably damaged.”

As we prepare for our children to go back to school, Iet’s also do what we can to support children who are displaced from their homes and are seeking refuge. A few suggestions I leave you with are:

  • To pray for the safety and security of school age children and their schools worldwide (protection from war, violence, natural disasters, etc.)

  • To pray that educational opportunities will be available to children who have fled their homes and are seeking refuge

  • To pray for immigrant, refugee and asylum seeking children who will be attending schools in our own communities

  • To build friendships with foreign born children and their families in our communities and offer assistance to make sure they are prepared for school (examples: that they have school supplies, understand the forms that need to be filled out, etc.)

  • To contact our local immigration and refugee resettlement agencies to see what other local opportunities there are to support educational opportunities and success for immigrant, refugee and asylum seeking children (volunteer for reading/language or tutoring programs, donate school supplies, etc.) 

  • To donate money to organizations and programs that promote educational opportunities for forcibly displaced people, those vulnerable to displacement and those returning after displacement. One project I’d like to mention is that the Reformed Church in America Global Mission and Partners Relief & Development are raising $40,000 to rebuild a school for 400-500 children in Iraqi Kurdistan. Please contact me at for more information, or click on this link to make a donation.

Advocacy Oppourtunity

At the Office of Social Justice we believe that an important part of justice is advocating for systemic changes that create conditions for people to flourish.  Please advocate for refugees and asylum-seekers in the U.S. and for immigrants to be treated humanely and with the God-given dignity they deserve. You can directly contact your elected officials about protecting the refugee resettlement program and asylum-seekers and the asylum process.  

Photo credit: Partners Relief & Development (Rebuilt School in Syria)


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