Refugees in 2017[1]
Total population
c. 25.4 million
(19.9 million under the mandate of United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and 5.4 million under UNRWA's mandate
Regions with significant populations
Sub-Saharan Africa6.236 million
Europe and North Asia6.088 million
Asia and the Pacific4.153 million
Middle East and North Africa2.653 million

A refugee, generally speaking, is a displaced person who has been forced to cross national boundaries and who cannot return home safely. Such a person may be called an asylum seeker until granted refugee status by the contracting state or the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR)[2] if they formally make a claim for asylum.[3] The lead international agency coordinating refugee protection is the United Nations Office of the UNHCR. The United Nations has a second office for refugees, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), which is solely responsible for supporting the large majority of Palestinian refugees.[4]

Refugee children come from many different backgrounds, and their reasons for resettlement are even more diverse. The number of refugee children has continued to increase as conflicts interrupt communities at a global scale. In 2014 alone, there were approximately 32 armed conflicts in 26 countries around the world, and this period saw the highest number of refugees ever recorded[121] Refugee children experience traumatic events in their lives that can affect their learning capabilities, even after they have resettled in first or second settlement countries. Educators such as teachers, counselors, and school staff, along with the school environment, are key in facilitating socialization and acculturation of recently arrived refugee and immigrant children in their new schools.[122]


The experiences children go through during times of armed conflict can impede their ability to learn in an educational setting. Schools experience drop

The experiences children go through during times of armed conflict can impede their ability to learn in an educational setting. Schools experience drop-outs of refugee and immigrant students from an array of factors such as: rejection by peers, low self-esteem, antisocial behavior, negative perceptions of their academic ability, and lack of support from school staff and parents.[122] Because refugees come from various regions globally with their own cultural, religious, linguistic, and home practices, the new school culture can conflict with the home culture, causing tension between the student and their family.

Aside from students, teachers and school staff also face their own obstacles in working with refugee students. They have concerns about their ability to meet the mental, physical, emotional, and educational needs of students. One study of newly arrived Bantu students from Somalia in a Chicago school questioned whether schools were equipped to provide them with a quality education that met the needs of the pupils. The students were not aware of how to use pencils, which caused them to break the tips requiring frequent sharpening. Teachers may even see refugee students as different from other immigrant groups, as was the case with the Bantu pupils.[123] Teachers may sometimes feel that their work is made harder because of the pressures to meet state requirements for testing. With refugee children falling behind or struggling to catch up, it can overwhelm teachers and administrators. Further leading to Anger

Not all students adjust the same way to their new setting. One student may take only three months, while others may take four years. One study found that even in their fourth year of schooling, Lao and Vietnamese refugee students in the US were still in a transitional status.[124] Refugee students continue to encounter difficulties throughout their years in schools that can hinder their ability to learn. Furthermore, to provide proper support, educators must consider the experiences of students before they settled the US.

In their first settlement countries, refugee students may encounter negative experiences with education that they can carry with them post settlement. For example:[121]

Statistics found that in places such as Uganda and Kenya, there were gaps in refugee students attending schools. It found that 80% of refugees in Uganda were attending schools, whereas only 46% of students were attending schools in Kenya.[121] Furthermore, for secondary levels, the numbers were much lower. There was only 1.4% of refugee students attending schools in Malaysia. This trend is evident across several first settlement countries and carry negative impacts on students once they arrive to their permanent settlement homes, such as the US, and have to navigate a new education system. Unfortunately, some refugees do not have a chance to attend schools in their first settlement countries because they are considered undocumented immigrants in places like Malaysia for Rohingya refugees.[121] In other cases, such as Burundians in Tanzania, refugees can get more access to education while in displacement than in their home countries.[125]

Overcoming obstacles