Rabat – The UNHCR is calling attention to an education crisis in the Sahel as conflict and COVID-19 continue to ravage the region. Conflict-related school closures in the region before the end of 2019 affected approximately 650,000 students and 16,000 teachers, and COVID-19 is only exacerbating matters.
In a region impacted by conflict, education is often the only way out for young people eager to change their life. The UN Refugee Agency will publish a September 3 report that reveals the shocking extent of the threats to education in the Sahel. In an August 27 statement, UNHCR released the report’s important findings.
“UNHCR warns [of] the twin scourges of COVID-19 and attacks on schools, targeting teachers and pupils,” Ag Ahmed of the UNHCR wrote. The combination of COVID-19 and conflict “threatens to destroy hard-won gains in refugee education and destroy the dreams of millions of youngsters” he added.
Futures in doubt
“I was very sad to have to stay home all day and not be able to continue classes,” young Malian refugee Oumar ag Ousmane said about his experience. Young students like Oumar have seen their education in the Sahel region frequently interrupted. Gunmen have targeted schools and COVID-19 measures have now shut down education institutions.
Since 2017, conflict-related school closures have increased sixfold in Burkina Faso, Mali, and Niger. By the end of last year, 3,300 schools had shut their doors, threatening the future education of hundreds of thousands of students.
UNICEF said in January that 4.3 million children in the Central Sahel region were in need of humanitarian assistance in 2019. They expected the number to rise in 2020. The report, released before the pandemic had touched the region, feared five million children would require humanitarian aid.
“Across the Central Sahel, attacks and threats on schools and against teachers and students have become more common, worsening access to education,” UNICEF stressed.
The UN is trying to raise awareness over the prevalence of attacks on schools. It will start marking Septembers 9 as “International Day to Protect Education from Attack.” As violence and COVID-19 continues to impact millions in the Sahel region, UNHCR and UNICEF urge swift action.