International Refugee Education Law

When starting this project, I had not put much thought into why refugee students should be educated. It seemed only common sense that they should receive a quality education serving their needs, and I though it fit perfectly into the culture and policies of Canada to do so. I had not realized that countries educate refugee students not just out of their feelings of generosity or justice, but rather that many are also bound my legal statutes.

The right of refugee children to education is indeed written into international agreements. The 1951 United Nations Convention on the Status of Refugees states that countries “shall accord to refugees the same treatment as is accorded to nationals with respect to elementary education” (UNHCR, 2010, p. 24). So if a country educated its citizens in a certain way, then all of the refugees within their border are due to the same treatment. Alberta pledges to teach to every student’s needs and abilities; the same needs to be afforded to Syrian refugee students. Just because a student is a refugee does not mean they deserve any less attention than a regular student. The 1948 Declaration of Human Rights also includes the right to education for refugees (O’Rourke, 2014). This important educational right is essential to the support of Syrian refugees during this conflict (Ficarra, 2017; McCall & Vang, 2012; O’Rourke, 2014; Warner, 2017). The population of Syrian refugee children who have fled Syria need to be equipped to be able to do not only the best for their lives, but also for the future of restoring peace and infrastructure in Syria after the war.

While the legal right to education only calls for the same treatment as nationals of the country receive, the best practice for refugee students includes attending to their specific unique needs. For example, “all students have a legal right to an education in order to succeed in life without requiring them to relinquish their cultural identity” (McCall & Vang, 2012, p. 33). There are various best practices for refugee students, such as trauma- informed pedagogy (, culturally relevant pedagogy, and teaching according to the needs of students with interrupted or limited formal schooling. Syrian refugee children need to be supported and educated so that they are one day able to resettle their country and be successful despite the situation they were born into. Refugee students need help with trauma, language, and culture in their new country.

So in the end, supports for the Syrian refugee students need to go beyond what is called for in the 1951 United Nations Convention on the Status of Refugees or the 1948 Declaration of Human Rights. Just like the rest of the Alberta students that are being taught, these children need to be supported in the unique ways that they need.

Selected Resources:

UNHCR. (2010). Convention and protocol relating to the status of refugees.

O’Rourke, J. (2014). Education for Syrian refugees: the failure of second-generation human rights during extraordinary crises. Albany Law Review, 78(2), 711–738.

Ficarra, J. (2017). Comparative international approaches to better understanding and supporting refugee learners. Issues in Teacher Education, 26(1), 73–85.

McCall, A. L., & Vang, B. (2012). Preparing preservice teachers to meet the needs of Hmong refugee students. Multicultural Perspectives, 14(1), 32–37.

Warner, J. (2017). No Lost Generations: Refugee children and their human right to education, from the Holocaust to the Syrian Civil War.




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