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Migration Summit weeks 2–3 recap

Key themes and discussions surrounding the theme “education and workforce development in displacement”

Zoom grid view with 20 participants
Migration Summit closing session with the organizing committee and volunteers.

By: Elza Meiksane, Migration Summit Volunteer

The theme of this year’s Migration Summit was Education and Workforce Development in Displacement and during the past weeks we have heard about the many challenges that refugees face in seeking opportunities to go forward and make a change in their life pathways.

The second and third weeks of the Summit spanned 20 events featuring over 70 panelists working in North and South America, the Middle East, and Africa. These weeks have left participants inspired by the work of organizations co-creating resilient solutions for refugees, and more keenly aware of the challenges involved in their work.

Up next you can read a recap of these events, focusing on the key themes that emerged from the virtual discussions. First, we will look at how organizations are challenging existing modes of education to help refugees overcome the barriers they face. We will investigate the process of education from admissions until employment. Second, we will dive into why it is essential to design projects that develop resilience in refugee populations.

Challenging Existing Modes of Higher Education

Refugees confront their first barriers even before stepping inside a university. The figurative university door is oftentimes kept shut by a complicated admissions process. During a panel on Post-Secondary access to education, we examined the admissions process by paying attention to the scholarship opportunities that refugees have. Nadia Asmal, a Refugee Livelihoods Advocate, explained that scholarships often accommodate only the best and brightest but not necessarily the most vulnerable. Further, there are not enough scholarships available, and the ones that are, are not designed for success as they fail to consider such aspects as mental health support for refugees.

There were also discussions looking for solutions such as developing a database to make information about scholarships accessible and easy to navigate for people looking for opportunities. Some participants from the Summit proposed that instead of requiring an English proficiency test like IELTS, universities could choose to accept the Duolingo English Test, or different options that could make it easier to forcibly displaced people to demonstrate their language capacities. Dr. Chrystina Russel, former Executive Director of the Global Education Movement from Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU) challenged common practice by illustrating how the organization opens doors. They waive admissions fees and offer 2 to 6 month preparation programs for refugee students.

As a ray of hope, Manal Stulgaitis (UNHCR, DAFI) pointed out that progress is being made: “In 2019 only 1% of refugee youth was in higher education, however, now the proportion has risen to 5%.” But there is still a long way to go, especially comparing the statistics from the 40% of global youth that have access to higher education.

Only after the COVID-19 crisis, did many stakeholders in education begin to consider digital learning as a viable solution for improving refugees’ access to education. Experts from educational institutions such as the University of the People (UoPeople) and Arizona State University (ASU), discussed whether digitalization is the path forward for refugee education. Shai Reshef, Founder of UoPeople, whose institution has been working online for the past 13 years, firmly believes that “the only way to secure post-secondary education for thousands of refugees is by relying on online learning.” Consequently, Nick Sabato shared that ASU has also taken the digital path by providing programs such as Be a Successful Online Learner and other contextualized offerings delivered via offline modality for low-bandwidth settings.

However, not everyone from the panel on Post-Secondary Pathways for Refugee and Displaced Students agreed that remote learning was the right solution. Dr. Chrystina Russel finds power in working with folks on the ground and emphasized that “remote learning” is often learning that was supposed to happen in person but has been pushed online due to necessity. Similarly, Dr. Gül İnanç from the University of Auckland articulated that “societies need to understand that a physical appearance on campus means much more for refugees: it means recognition.”

Language Learning
A key component of refugee education is language learning which in a global context means learning English. Mosaik, an educational organization that helps refugees reach universities, engaged the audience with the question “How to provide English language learning support in a way that is contextually relevant and meaningful to refugees?” Mosaik uses a dialogue-driven approach to teach English in Lebanon, Jordan, and Turkey. The dialogue approach is an antidote to the broadcast teaching style and rather utilizes activities to teach English while building a reciprocal relationship between the teacher and students.

Scott Thornbury, pedagogy Expert at Mosaik, emphasized that the language learning curriculum emerged out of the lived experiences and goals of the students in the classroom. He remarked that “the degree of agency that students, particularly refugee students feel, is a key determinant of the success of their education.” Ahmed Salim received training from Mosaik so that he could teach language classes to refugees like himself. He observed that some students were afraid to speak English because they had no confidence in their abilities. By utilizing learning activities Ahmed was able to motivate his students and there was a moment that there were no quiet voices in his classroom.

Education to Employment
Lorraine Charles, Co-Founder of Na’amal and Co-Chair of the Migration Summit, summarized the goal of education by stating: “It’s important to turn education into a livelihood.” Refugees rarely have the privilege to pursue knowledge for its own sake. Therefore, there is a need to design education programs that have a clear link with employment.

On a panel about Education for Employment programs in Jordan, Ghadeer Khuffash, CEO of Education for Employment (EFE), explained how EFE’s programs help youth find work in the private sector. Instead of offering degrees, EFE provides training tracks that last a couple of months but have a concrete economic outcome. For example, EFE offers an online self-employment track that lasts 1–3 months and provides refugees with sector-specific technical and soft skills. Ghadeer shared that the placement rate of their graduates is around 80% and the retention rate around 70%, high rates if compared to other programs. Yamama Mousa, Syrian refugee, was unable to find a job even though she had acquired an educational diploma in Jordan. However, after she found EFE, she enrolled in a beauty project and now works in a salon.

The session reminded participants that education for refugees does not have to involve a university degree; but what is more important, refugees using their qualifications to secure a livelihood.


Understanding resilience as the ability to recover from and withstand difficulties, makes it clear why it is such a crucial part of the mindset of refugees. There is a high need to be critical and evaluate whether the interventions that are being designed contribute to refugee resilience.

To help us understand what resilience is, we looked at how Syrian refugees in the Azraq camp with the help of InZone (education program from University of Geneva) developed a module on Community Resilience. Emanuela Sebastiani, scientific collaborator at InZone, explained that the module was “designed for refugees to tap into community resources to find a way to cope when life becomes unpredictable.” Participants were able to grapple with the challenges that InZone faced when developing the module, such as balancing the experience of refugees and providing external support. Esraa Hamdan, Syrian refugee that co-created the module, shared the paradox that before working on the project she had never before heard of the term “resilience,” yet she had lived it as a reality.

Resilience comes from having the internal strength to believe that you can face your problems. Therefore, for refugees to cultivate resilience projects need to focus on empowering refugees and building their confidence. The leaders of Jusoor, an international NGO providing educational and entrepreneurial programs for Syrian refugees, facilitated a session on Educational Journey from Kindergarten to Entrepreneurship as they believe that “empowered youth will empower youth.” Meray Arnouk, scholar at Jusoor Scholarship Program, told her story about resilience. She secured a higher education opportunity in the U.S., however, her visa was rejected due to a travel ban. She did not give up but instead applied to McGill University and with the financial support of Jusoor was able to pursue an MSc in Nutrition. As a scholar, she has been able to continue the cycle of empowerment by sharing her experience with other Syrians who have the interest to study abroad. The session with Jusoor prompted us to recognize that we need resilience to become generational.

During a panel on Multi-Sectoral Approaches, we focused on self-reliance as a tool to cultivate resilience. Simar Singh (Senior Program Manager, RefugePoint) shared that “self-reliance is an approach that reorients assistance from short-term aid to rebuilding the lives of refugees to contribute to the communities they live in while strengthening their long-term resilience.”

Anna Nicol (Policy Officer from the U.S. Department of State) used the Self-Reliance Index (SRI) as an example of cross-sectoral collaboration. SRI is a holistic tool that measures the progress of refugee households towards self-reliance across twelve domains (including housing, food, employment, education, and others). SRI was developed using input from over 25 partners and has had a great impact on both the refugee households that have been scored by the index and the organizations that use the index to design interventions. Lastly, it was concluded that to design resilient solutions, we need to engage across multiple sectors because such engagement tends to be more comprehensive and inclusive.

In case you missed one of these or other sessions from the Migration Summit, you can find recordings on our YouTube Channel. During the month of May, the Organizing Committee will work on the generation of a report with the key learnings and points of discussions that derived from the hosted events, so that we can collaboratively explore new ways of showing up that create more inclusive, generative, and sustainable spaces for systemic collaboration around this years’ theme Education and Workforce Development in Displacement.

Elza Meiksane is a fourth-year student of Social Research and Public Policy in New York University, Abu Dhabi, currently interning at Na’amal. She is a volunteer at a Latvian refugee NGO and helps by organizing donations in addition to translating documents. As a project assistant with the Latvian Center for Human Rights, she has helped build bridges across more than 25 NGOs as part of a project to develop a more tolerant society.



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