Globalization and increased human mobility have generated new challenges for policymakers to maintain social cohesion amongst diverse cultural, ethnic, and religious groups. When refugees arrive in a new country their presence is already viewed as a strain on the state’s infrastructure, labor market, and basic services. As a result, the local host communities harbor resentment toward them, making them vulnerable to discrimination, violence, and exploitation. As refugees cannot be viewed in isolation from their host communities, it is essential to extend support to their development as well. By expanding sustainable development opportunities for both groups alike, the process of refugee integration can be made more effective and smooth.
To foster social cohesion among them, refugee children need to have inclusive and equitable access to formal education institutes. They must be taught in the host country’s national curriculum as per the UNHCR’s global education strategy. This enables refugee students to move more easily from primary to secondary school and gives them access to accredited national-level examinations and certifications.
Schools in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan that support registered Afghan refugee students made this transition in 2018 which has greatly improved Pakistan’s national education systems quality and inclusiveness.
Three-quarters of Afghan refugees live in urban and rural regions alongside host communities. This figure includes approximately 500,000 school-aged children, who have benefited from Pakistan’s national education system. To further complement these efforts UNHCR’s Refugee-Affected and Hosting Areas (RAHA) program works with the government to facilitate the integration of refugees into the national education system.
The project has allocated resources worth $45 million to 730 projects to support the education system through a wide range of measures. Including rehabilitation of schools, investment in training of staff, and capacity building of parent-teacher associations to raise awareness on the benefits of enrolling children in institutions. These projects have impacted 785,000 individuals eighty-four percent of whom are Pakistani beneficiaries and the remaining sixteen percent are Afghan beneficiaries.
The assistance of the local host community members not only rewards them for generously sharing their resources with refugee communities for four decades but also increases people-to-people interaction, thereby fostering conditions for social cohesion.
Schools can be used as hubs for promoting social activities and community building. Engaging, students from host communities and refugee communities in looking into the implications of living in a diverse environment can break down social isolation and foster trust and bonding with each other. Similarly, by encouraging refugee children to share their stories and experiences with others it can create a system of peer support by generating empathy toward them. By not isolating one community for the benefit of the other, these practices reduce the generation of binaries of us versus them. Through children these values can then be permeated into their respective communities, eventually leading to building trust and change of perception. By implementing such policies, refugees can improve their well-being, contribute to the development of host communities, and help create inclusive and diverse communities.
Fatima Azhar is associated with the Islamabad Policy Research Institute (IPRI) and has a deep interest in refugee movements and Asian geopolitics. She has a Graduate degree in International Relations from the National Defence Univeristy. Has previously worked with Pakistan Red Crescent Society and UN OCHA. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, Twitter: @fatimaazhar9