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UNHCR: refugees need opportunities for higher education
June 09, 2012

UNHCR: refugees need opportunities for higher education
Vincent Cochetel delivered his address to 120 attendees in the University’s St. John Francis Regis Chapel March 7 during the four-day JC:HEM think tank, designed to envision and chart the future of a program that for the past two years has been providing online education to refugees in Kenya, Malawi, and Syria. (Don Doll S.J.)
Cochetel emphasized that higher education is also a critical part of the educational continuum, adding that "the possibility of higher education motivates young people to enroll in and complete secondary school, which has a similar impact on demand for primary education."
By Donnie Veasey

(Denver) June 9, 2012 — The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees regional representative for the United States and Caribbean praised efforts so far but told attendees at the first international Jesuit Commons: Higher Education at the Margins Think Tank conducted at Regis University earlier this year that “we need to be better” when it comes to the refugee situation.

Vincent Cochetel delivered his address to 120 attendees in the University’s St. John Francis Regis Chapel March 7 during the four-day JC:HEM think tank, designed to envision and chart the future of a program that for the past two years has been providing online education to refugees in Kenya, Malawi, and Syria.

Jesuit Commons: Higher Education at the Margins is an initiative of the Society of Jesus that brings Jesuit higher education to those at the margins of our society. JC:HEM works with Jesuit Refugee Service and has enabled more than 250 refugees to study courses online and on-site in partnership with a global network of Jesuit universities. Those refugees can earn a diploma in liberal studies and pursue community service learning tracks for a certificate of completion that benefit daily life in the camps.

During a 45 minute presentation titled Lives at the Margins — The United Nations Looks at the Future, Cochetel, told the attendees there are 11 million refugees, 27 million internally displaced persons, an estimated 3.5 million stateless persons and 837,000 asylum seekers. He also discussed where those refugees are, who they are what they want and their rights.

"The average length for a refugee is 17 years," said Cochetel, a native of France who joined UNHCR in 1986 and is currently based in Washington, D.C. 

After outlining some key challenges for UNHCR, including the shrinking of the humanitarian space and developing adequate response in the context of growing urbanization, Cochetel launched into an in depth explanation and discussion on key challenges in higher education, the benefits of higher education for refugees and priorities in relations to higher education -- three areas which directly relate to the higher education goals of JC:HEM.

"The report is not good," Cochetel said in talking about the key challenges in education. "The enrollment rate is low. Gender parity figures are not good either."

His presentation noted that there's a huge demand for higher education among refugees and that young refugees are often living in despair, wishing to continue their education and to be of greater service to their communities.

Cochetel emphasized the benefits of higher education for refugees, noting that that education cultivates civic leadership which is essential to any durable solution, develops skills and confidence, fosters the ability to make strategic life choices, provides training for highly quailed teachers for primary and secondary schools, promotes economic gains.

Speaking with a powerful passion, Cochetel emphasized that higher education is also a critical part of the educational continuum, adding that "the possibility of higher education motivates young people to enroll in and complete secondary school, which has a similar impact on demand for primary education."

His higher education priorities included increasing scholarships and academic support to secondary schools students, more opportunities for open and distance learning, reducing access to barriers, and expanding opportunities for refugees to participate in para-professional opportunities. 

He highlighted the important work of the JC:HEM project at two refugee camps (Kakuma in Kenya, Dzaleka in Malawi) and an urban center (Aleppo in Syria), which began in September 2010. Portugal native Luis Amaral S.J., site coordinator at Kakuma, the largest of the three refugee camps with about 85,000 refugees; at the Aleppo project, led by site coordinator and Frenchwoman Anne Ziegler, about 10,000 Iraqi refugees are registered by UNHCR; Frenchwoman Clotilde Giner is site coordinator at Dzaleka, where 16,000 refugees are located.

In conversation with Jesuit Refugee Service/USA National Director Fr. Michael A. Evans, S.J., Cochetel, who as UNHCR regional representative for the United States and Caribbean works a great deal on Haiti and the Dominican Republic, said that there was no advocate on the issue of Haitians and statelessness more involved with the issue and more knowledgable than JRS/USA and no more reliable colleague than JRS/USA Associate Advocacy Director Shaina Aber

Faculty members in Regis University’s College for Professional Studies (CPS) are among those teaching the online courses in Kenya and Malawi. In fall 2010, CPS faculty and staff initiated the credentialing process, making Regis the first credentialing university for JC:HEM. 

In addition, 15 other Jesuit colleges and universities in the United States are also involved JC:HEM including Boston College, Canisius University, Creighton University, Fordham University, Georgetown University, Gonzaga University, Marquette University, Seattle University, St. Joseph’s University, St. Louis University, University of San Francisco, Wheeling Jesuit University and Xavier University.

During his presentation at Regis University, Cochetel also briefly shared the story of his kidnapping in Vladikavkaz, Northern Ossetia, Russia and held in captivity for 317 days, with more than 23 hours of each of those days spent in darkness.

Cochetel notes that his passion for doing all he can regarding the refugee situation and striving to make a positive difference for those at the margins originated from his days growing up in a small town in France among many children with difference backgrounds.

He praised the Jesuit Commons: Higher Education at the Margins project, calling it "unique" and adding that "there is nothing else like it in the world." 

Regis University, with nearly 15,000 students, comprises Regis College, College for Professional Studies and Rueckert-Hartman College for Health Professions. The University is recognized by U. S. News & World Report as a Top School in the West and is one of 28 Catholic Jesuit colleges and universities throughout the United States.  Regis University is located at 3333 Regis Blvd. at 50th and Lowell Streets in north Denver. In addition to its north Denver Lowell campus, the University has campus locations in Aurora, Colorado Springs, Interlocken at Broomfield, Denver Tech Center, Fort Collins, Longmont and in Las Vegas, Nevada. For news releases, fact sheet, experts list or university highlights, visit the "Media Center" at www.regis.edu/media. For more information about Regis University visit www.regis.edu


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Press Contact Information
Donnie R. Veasey, Director of Media Relations, Regis University
dveasey@regis.edu
303-458-3537