Refugee education a hot topic at the UN: “Finland has much more to give”

Humanitarian funding has an increased emphasis on education, but resources do not yet meet the needs. As world leaders gathered in New York for the 73rd UN General Assembly, FCA’s representatives highlight that Finland can gain from its educational expertise.

With one in four of the world’s 1.8 billion youth affected by violent conflict, the need for education for refugees and internally displaced people is dire. The importance of refugee education was highlighted in many sessions of the UN General Assembly this week.

“This year, the topic was not only discussed in sessions related to refugees and education, but also at other important events. The focus was however mainly on children’s education. We cannot afford to forget about the youth, says Katri Suomi, Head of Advocacy and Ecumenical Relations at FCA.

A new global study ‘Missing Peace – Independent Progress Study on Youth Peace and Security’ was published at the UN General Assembly, highlighting what role young people play or should play in peace and security. Currently, 90 percent of direct conflict deaths are young men.

The report highlights that “policy panic”, driven by stereotypes of youth as prone to violence, is counter-productive. There is for example simply no correlation between bulging youth populations and violence.

Education may on the other hand become an enabling factor for an increased political participation of young people. The report outlines three effective ways to activate the youth peace dividend: invest in youth, include youth and collaborate with youth.

Earlier this week, the UN also launched its’ Youth Strategy to ensure that every young person is empowered to achieve their full potential, get their voices heard and advocate for positive change.

Finland should prioritise education in development policy and funding

The emphasis on education has grown within humanitarian funding, but the funds do not meet the needs. Countries, such as Denmark, Norway and Canada, as well as the EU and the World Bank are now investing in refugee education. The UN General Assembly demanded that also leaders of developing countries increase their national budgets for education.

FCA’s Executive Director Jouni Hemberg says that Finland now has the opportunity to raise its profile with its educational expertise. Finland has so far been absent for example at the Global Partnership for Education fund.

The report ‘Stepping Up Finland’s Global Role in Education’, ordered by the Ministry for Foreign Affairs of Finland, states that the Finnish expertise in the education sector should be prioritised more in the country’s development cooperation policy and funding.

“Finland has so much to give to refugee education and the education sector of the developing countries in general,” says Hemberg.

FCA ready to start post-war reconstruction in South Sudan

In South Sudan three out of four children are out-of-school. The country’s security situation remains extremely poor after conflict parties reconfirmed the peace treaty on September 12.

International donors expressed their strong support to the civil society organisation’s working in the country, and criticized the taxes and fees that the South Sudanese government charges from aid organisations.

There are also severe challenges in accessing areas in need of humanitarian assistance. During the rainy season, around 60 percent of the country is inaccessible due to bad roads and flooding. In addition, one must negotiate with several armed groups to gain access. So far this year, 13 humanitarian workers have been killed and 70 have been detained.

Internally displaced people and refugees from Uganda and other countries hosting South Sudanese refugees have begun the long process of returning home. The war has ruined infrastructure, schools and food production, and everything needs to be built from scratch.

FCA has stayed in the country throughout the crisis, and its employees are now in well positioned to begin assisting in the reconstruction efforts.

“We have already started a vocational training programme together with the Norwegian Refugee Council. In addition, we deliver food aid, build schools and support the peace work of the South Sudanese Council of Churches”, says Hemberg.

New partnerships to step up development

Participants of the UN General Assembly called for investments in African businesses in the session ‘Africa: Open for Business’. What Africa needs to do is invest in the infrastructure and the regulations, for example visa policies, the session concluded.

Africa is on the rise, but not without investing in education. The American economist Jeffrey Sachs emphasised the importance of education to the development of the African private sector: Quality education is a vital condition for businesses.

FCA Investments, a new financing company founded by Finn Church Aid, is investing in small and medium sized enterprises in developing countries. In its initial phase, it invests in Uganda among others.

“FCA has many years of experience from development cooperation in the most fragile states in the world, and we believe that we can lift people from poverty through vocational training and granting loans to small and medium sized businesses”, Hemberg states.

At this year’s UN General Assembly, partnerships between governments, the private sector and civil society organisations, including faith-based actors, as well as a search for new ways of working were prominent, Suomi adds.

“Many enterprises, such as Google, Amazon and Microsoft were visibly present, and for example artificial intelligence was discussed in many occasions.”

Finnish expertise and leadership well represented

Faith-based actors have an increasingly significant role within the UN. The Faith-Based Advisory Council to the UN Task Force on Religion and Sustainable Development organised its first meeting in connection with the General Assembly on Friday September 21. Tarja Kantola, Chair of FCA’s Board of Directors, is co-chair of the Advisory Council.

Faith-based actors have a lot to offer to the UN system, and the cooperation benefits both, says Suomi. Churches and mosques are present in almost every community, even in the most remote places.

“Partnerships with them can provide access, help spread information, and do advocacy work. Religion can also be a big resource in difficult circumstances and crisis situations”, she states.

The Network for Religious and Traditional Peacemakers also organised a side event called ‘Demystifying the narrative of the so-called Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant’, together with the UN Office on Genocide Prevention. The event discussed gender issues concerning ISIL.

ISIL strategically projected women’s empowerment to persuade them to travel to ISIL held territories while subjigating them once they arrived through sexual slavery, their physical appearance and limited social interactions. Additionally, the enslavement of women, often as sex slaves, was used as a recruitment tool for ISIL fighters.

“In my interactions with survivors, I heard loudly and clearly from women and girls who escaped ISIL captivity, the desire that ISIL perpetrators be held accountable not only for terrorism, but the sexual atrocities they committed,” stated Pramila Patten, Special Representative to the UN Secretary General.

Other pressing topics discussed were climate change, girls and women’s rights, tuberculosis, the status of International Humanitarian Law, the UN reform and the situation in Syria.

“I was pleased to see that Finland had a broad representation at the assembly. President Niinistö and several ministers were present. A huge part of Finland’s international weight relates to development policy”, Suomi says.

Text: Minna Elo
Photo: Hugh Rutherford