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UNHCR—Jesuit agreement enhances higher education opportunities for refugees
April 12, 2013

UNHCR—Jesuit agreement enhances higher education opportunities for refugees
Suad Sharif Mohamed, from Somalia, is one of the Jesuit Commons: Higher Education on the Margins students taking a diploma course online from Kakuma refugee camp, Kenya (Angelika Mendes — Jesuit Refugee Service)
"Only a tiny percentage of students currently have access to higher education. By harnessing technology, we have brought universities to refugees. We hope this agreement will make the provision of third level education to refugees the norm rather than a novelty in the future," said Mary McFarland, JC:HEM International Director.

(Rome) April 12, 2013 — The United Nations refugee agency and Jesuit Refugee Service, through our partner Jesuit Commons: Higher Education at the Margins initiative, have signed an agreement to enhance higher education opportunities for refugees and other forcibly displaced people through online and on-site courses.

The agreement expands access to online courses for refugees and other displaced students to several additional countries where UNHCR and JRS operate.

"Forcibly displaced and frequently living on the margins of society, we have seen how education offers refugees the intellectual nourishment to become the leaders of tomorrow. In the midst of conflict and instability, education can be a form of healing to refugees hungry to rebuild their communities," said Jesuit Refugee Service International Director Fr. Peter Balleis S.J.

Hundreds of forcibly displaced persons in Jordan, Kenya and Malawi are already enrolled in online higher education courses and diploma programs with Regis University in Denver, Colorado, as well as certificate courses offered by other Jesuit universities. This agreement expands the scheme to refugees in several other countries. Assessments are already underway in Chad and will soon be followed in other locations to increase further educational opportunities for refugees. 

"Ensuring access to education is a universal right and a priority for UNHCR in all of its operations. Education is a continuum. In addition to primary and secondary education, UNHCR also wants to provide opportunities for refugee students in higher education but limited resources have remained a barrier for us in our efforts," said Volker Türk, UNHCR’s Director of International Protection, welcoming the agreement.

The partnership is exploring the possibility of offering distance learning courses in a variety of languages. It plans to develop relevant curricula to build capacities of refugees and host communities. Students studying in JRS learning centers receive support from the organization’s academic tutors on the ground. They also benefit from online instruction and guidance from faculty members, drawn from higher education institutions around the world.

"Only a tiny percentage of students currently have access to higher education. By harnessing technology, we have brought universities to refugees. We hope this agreement will make the provision of third level education to refugees the norm rather than a novelty in the future," said Mary McFarland, JC:HEM International Director.

In 2012, UNHCR introduced a five-year education strategy that aims to increase access to higher education, expand the number of university scholarships and develop access to accredited distance learning programs for refugees.

In addition, the current agreement strengthens UNHCR partnerships with religious and faith-based organizations working in the humanitarian sector as a follow up to the dialogue on faith and refugee protection led by High Commissioner António Guterres. Religious leaders and faith experts gathered in Geneva last December discussed how the values of world religions underpin refugee protection and humanitarian action for millions of forcibly displaced and stateless persons.


Jesuit Refugee Service is an international Catholic organization with a mission to accompany, serve and advocate on behalf of refugees and forcibly displaced persons. Working in more than 50 countries around the world, JRS provides education, health, social and other services to approximately 700,000 refugees and internally displaced persons, more than half of whom are women.

Launched in 2010, this latest JRS / JC:HEM initiative, employing internet and on-site teachers, mentors and tutors, offers accredited online higher education courses to refugees in Kakuma (Kenya) and Dzaleka (Malawi) camps, and in urban areas in Jordan, as well as certificates of learning. In the pilot phase of the program, ending in August 2014, more than 1,000 refugees are expected to participate.

Approximately 280,000 children, young people and adults receive primary, secondary, tertiary and vocational education services each year. JRS places the highest priority on ensuring a better future for refugees by investing heavily in education and training. Further, JRS undertakes advocacy to ensure all displaced children be provided with access to quality education. A UNHCR partner and an international non-governmental Catholic organization, JRS services are provided to refugees regardless of race, ethnic origin or religious beliefs.

Jesuit Commons:Higher Education at the Margins is a global initiative of the Society of Jesus to ensure those who live at the margins have access to higher education.


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