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Section ten of thirteen of SGI President Daisaku Ikeda’s 2018 peace proposal, “Toward an Era of Human Rights: Building a People’s Movement.”
The second thematic area I would like to address is human rights. Here, the first proposal I would like to make regards improving conditions for refugee and migrant children
Currently, work is underway at the UN toward the adoption of two agreements by the end of 2018: a global compact for migration and one for refugees. I would like to urge that human rights be identified as the thread that connects each of the individual elements in these compacts, and that the international community make the securing of educational opportunities for refugee and migrant children a priority objective and shared commitment.
There are currently 65.6 million forcibly displaced persons in the world, and over half of the world’s refugees are children under the age of eighteen. Likewise, many immigrant children suffer adverse treatment as a result of prejudice and discrimination.
Migrant children who have become separated from their parent or guardian face particularly grave circumstances. According to a 2017 UNICEF report covering the years 2015 and 2016, their number has increased nearly fivefold since 2010, to more than 300,000 unaccompanied and separated children in eighty countries.
In line with the title of the UNICEF report, “A child is a child,” the rights and dignity of all children must be equally protected regardless of their status as refugees or migrants. This is the guiding principle of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) and the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.
The importance of improving conditions for children was repeatedly noted in the New York Declaration that was adopted at the UN Summit for Refugees and Migrants in 2016. It states, “We will protect the human rights and fundamental freedoms of all refugee and migrant children, regardless of their status, and giving primary consideration at all times to the best interests of the child.” The Declaration also expresses a determination to “ensure that all children are receiving education within a few months of arrival” in the receiving countries.
To give concrete form to this determination, the two global compacts should include commitments by states to enact policies that ensure all children have access to education. Moreover, frameworks should be established whereby states that accept only a small number of refugees and migrants provide various forms of support to those that receive refugees in larger numbers.
As stressed in the New York Declaration, access to education not only offers basic protection to children in adverse circumstances but can also serve to instill hope for the future among members of the younger generation.
Yusra Mardini, a Syrian refugee and athlete appointed as a Goodwill Ambassador by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in 2017, has stated: “With food for our stomachs, refugees can survive. But only if they are given food for the soul will they be able to thrive.”
The boat carrying Yusra and other refugees broke down between Turkey and the Greek island of Lesbos during the long flight from her war-torn homeland. She and her sister jumped into the ocean to pull the boat to safety, swimming for hours and risking their own lives to save those of the other twenty passengers. After eventually arriving in Germany, she trained as a swimmer, becoming a member of the first-ever Refugee Olympic Team in the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics. She is now a full-time student in Germany and continues to train in hopes of competing in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
Yusra insists: “Refugees are just normal people living through traumatic and devastating circumstances, who are capable of extraordinary things if only given a chance.”
More than anything, I believe it is education that will create that chance.
It is also my earnest hope that the educational experience that is so vital to the future of refugee children will extend to the children studying with them in host communities, fostering a robust spirit of coexistence.
Here, the experience of ICAN Executive Director Beatrice Fihn, reflecting on her childhood in Sweden, is relevant:
“I grew up in a community with many immigrants. When I was seven, my school had a sudden influx of children from the Balkans. They all had undergone horrific experiences. . . I also had friends whose parents had migrated from drought-stricken Somalia. Meeting them and hearing their stories and then meeting their parents who had actually undergone those experiences brought home the reality of conflicts and crises taking place in other countries.”
related article The Power of Human Rights Education In a world that is increasingly interconnected, a challenge of human rights is to bring people together across differences. Human rights education helps us recognize and guard against attitudes that put up barriers to others’ experience of human dignity. These encounters with refugee and migrant children from around the world became a motivating factor in her work addressing crucial global issues.
UNHCR is advocating for the integration of refugees into national education systems. The friendships developed among children in school settings can contribute significantly to deepening exchanges on the family-to-family level and with the host community as a whole. In addition to the school system, nonformal educational settings offer important learning opportunities for refugee children, and the SGI will work actively in collaboration with other organizations to support such initiatives.