DAKAR (AlertNet) More than 25,000 school children, who have fled conflict in northern Mali with their families to seek refuge in neighbouring Burkina Faso, could completely miss out on education if measures are not rapidly taken to ensure they return to school, Swiss charity Terre des Hommes warned on Friday.
People have been forced to flee their homes in Mali following a Tuareg uprising that began in mid-January, a deepening political crisis caused by a coup d'état in March and a proliferation of armed groups in the north, where an independent state has been proclaimed.
Children were forced to leave school in the middle of the academic year.
“If we don’t act now to ensure they can get into existing schools or special schools in refugee camps by October when the new school year starts they would miss school for the second year,” said Thierry Agagliate, head of the Terres des Hommes foundation in Burkina Faso.
The refugees are in areas of Burkina Faso where there are few schools even for the Burkinabe children. And where there are schools, refugee children cannot attend because their destitute families are unable to pay for the books, parent-teacher association levies or school canteen fees that are required, Agagliate explained.
“A few children from well-to-do families were able to enroll in schools in Ouagadougou (Burkina Faso’s capital city) but the children ultimately dropped out because the school curriculum is different from the one in Mali,” he added.
The Burkina Faso government and the United Nations have drafted a plan to increase the capacity of schools to accommodate more pupils in areas where refugees have settled, provide books and school food, and set up temporary schools in refugee camps with Malian refugee teachers recruited to use Malian school curriculum.
However, international donors have provided little or no funds for the plan that was estimated to cost $1.7 million, he said.
“Education doesn’t seem to be a priority for donors as they focus on issues like food water and shelter,” Agagliate told AlertNet on the phone from Ouagadougou.
“But it is imperative that we come to realise that the education of these children also has to be a priority or else we would be left with a time bomb with this mass of uneducated youth,” he added.
More than 60,000 refugees from Mali have arrived in Burkina Faso since the conflict erupted, and current trends indicate there will be more than 100,000 refugees by the end of the year with over half being children, according to Terre des Hommes.
Aid agencies, including the U.N. Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and Terre des Hommes, are currently using limited core funds to respond to education needs. Such programmes mainly target primary education.
“The absence of secondary education opportunities for refugees is a real concern but that would be hard to tackle if the response to the crisis in general and education issues in particular remain underfunded,” said Agagliate.
The U.N. refugee agency (UNHCR) says the humanitarian emergency sparked by conflict in Mali has escalated beyond expectations, and has raised its funding needs for operations to help people uprooted by the violence this year to $153.7 million from the $35.6 million it requested in February.
Since February's appeal, the agency has received only $20.5 million for its work to help the displaced – a level it called "woefully inadequate".
The U.N estimates that around 145,000 people have been displaced within Mali and 168,000 have been registered as refugees in Burkina Faso, Mauritania and Niger.
(Editing by Rebekah Curtis)