PESHAWAR, 23 June:  The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi has urged the international community to invest more in youth empowerment and education while the current emergencies have increased global concern about the additional risks faced by children who do not have access to educational opportunities. The High Commissioner noted that protracted refugee hosting countries need additional support for education.

“Emphasis on education particularly becomes vital at a time when children below the age of 18 constitute 51 per cent of the total 65.3 million globally displaced people.” Said the Refugee Chief, at the occasion of the inauguration ceremony of a Government Girls Primary School in Daad Behsud, Nowshera on Thursday.

The UN Refugee Agency through German funding rehabilitated the existing structure of school by constructing 08 additional classrooms, toilets, and overhauling of the entire building, provision of furniture, sports goods and aid kits.

The UNHCR Chief spent some quality time with students of the school and also inaugurated a Sustainable Development Goal #4 (SDG) wall at the School. Grandi, together with students of Daag Behsud School painted SDG messages on one of the walls of the school, dedicated to promote education. The United Nations is empowering Pakistani youth for the promotion of peace and harmony in the country. The UN Wall Campaign is a wall chalking campaign for the Pakistani youth to disseminate key values of the United Nations.

Addressing a gathering of students, teachers and their parents, UNHCR Chief said, “Investment in Pakistani and Afghan youth equals to investment in resilience, empowerment, stability and future of both countries.” Mr. Grandi added, that a living example of such resilience was Ms. Aqeela Asifi, 2015 Nansen Refugee Award Winner, an Afghan refugee teacher who dedicated her life for the education of refugee girls. Ms. Asifi was also present at the ceremony.

Mr. Grandi assured that UNHCR is committed to support governments globally for the implementation of Sustainable Development Goal #4 to ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and lifelong learning for all by 2030.

The High Commissioner appreciated the provincial government for allowing access to refugee children in public schools. He said, “Despite this international commitment, education for refugees, remains widely under-supported and underfunded. Under-investment in refugee education results in continued low enrolment rates, gender disparity and low quality of education.” The High Commissioner added that, efforts to provide education options for Afghan refugees, by host governments, NGOs, UN agencies, public schools and civil society have unequivocally proven the benefits of education and training, particularly for Afghan refugee girls.

Speaking on the occasion, Dr. Imran Zeb, Chief Commissioner for Afghan Refugees (CCAR) said that, education is vital to improve the future human capital of Afghanistan and its economic sustainable development and peace building.

The Chief Commissioner added that, the tireless work of educators and community activists, such as the 2015 Nansen Refugee Award winner, Aqeela Asifi, is testament to the fact that solutions can be found, even in the most challenging of contexts.

Mr. Muhammad Atif Khan, Provincial Minister of Education Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, said, education is among the top priorities of the present provincial government and that the government has allocated USD 1.072 billion (Rs. 111.52 billion) for elementary and secondary education for the years 2016-2017.  The Minister said, “The glory of nations lies in the proper and quality education of its youth.” Minister Khan appreciated UNHCR’s support for the rehabilitation of the existing education facilities in KP under its RAHA programme.

The Daag Behsud School upgrading is part of the United Nations and Government of Pakistan joint Refugee Affected and Hosting Areas (RAHA) initiative. Germany is one of the key donors for RAHA interventions and have provided €27.5 million in sectors of health, education, community infrastructure and livelihood, across Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

To date, some 10.6 million people have benefited from some 3,500 RAHA projects worth USD 175 million RAHA projects, of which overall around 11 per cent are Afghan refugees whilst 89 per cent have been Pakistani citizens in refugee hosting villages.

During his day-long stay in Peshawar the High Commissioner also held meeting with the Chief Minister of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Pervez Khattak and Governor Iqbal Zafar Jhagra and discussed issues related to refugees in the province.