At the start of the 10th session of the UN Forum on Minority Issues, which this year focuses on ‘minority youth’, human rights advocate Ewelina Ochab draws attention to the obstacles displaced young people face in accessing education.
Ochab describes meeting Iraqi Christian youth and children in Jordan. Their families fled the Nineveh Plains when Islamic State invaded in August 2014, and “their needs go beyond the necessities [such] as food and shelter. And education is one of those needs that is yet to be addressed”, she says.
As there are too few opportunities for them to continue their education in Jordan’s capital, Amman, and they do not have the skills and knowledge to settle in a job, “they are frozen in time”, Ochab says.
There are exceptions. In December 2016 the Catholic Archdiocese of Erbil, northern Iraq, opened a university for displaced young people, whose education has suffered as a result. They started with 250 youths but the goal is to welcome a total of 500 students from various religious backgrounds. Around 80,000 Christians who fled the Iraqi Nineveh Plains settled in Erbil.
Citing a UNHCR report into education opportunities for refugee minority youth in other countries, Ochab notes that “only 50% of refugee children are enrolled in primary school, while 22% of refugee youth are enrolled in secondary school and only 1% of refugees attend universities”.
“Without the chances and opportunities that education provides, they will not be able to build a better future for themselves and their children,” she says. “They will become a lost generation”.
As an example of what can be done for them, Ochab mentions an initiative by the Hungarian government, which has established a new department to assist persecuted Christians globally and offers scholarships to 72 Christian students from persecuted Christian communities.