Reflections on the impact of Covid-19 for refugees and education

Reflections on the impact of Covid-19 for refugees and education

By Umer Farooq

This blog is on the topic of education and the refugee community, especially those Afghan refugees living in Pakistan who have been affected by Covid-19. During the pandemic, the whole world economy has suffered a lot and the education sector, in particular, has been hit hard. The lives and education of the refugees that have been affected by the pandemic in Pakistan are explored below, drawing on my own experience.

Covid-19 was clearly a big issue for all countries, but was especially hard for those countries that do not have the necessary resources and proper hospital facilities. The government of Pakistan took many steps to control the pandemic, like a ‘smart lockdown’ in some areas and ‘complete lockdown’ in others. Educational and religious institutions were also shut down and the government later made various rules to control the virus. The main challenge facing the policymakers of under-developed countries was how to implement an online education system, because such a pandemic had never happened before and education systems were not prepared. A second challenge was that people who got sick from Covid-19 rarely went to the hospital, thinking it was a minor illness and they could cure it themselves. As a result, the disease spread further due to a lack of awareness among the people. More education was needed to prevent this from happening.

The past two years have been an especially difficult time for the refugee community which has been living in camps in Pakistan for almost forty years. Most of them work as laborers, earning for their children daily to support their children’s stomachs and their education expenses. For those who are educated in the refugee community, there are few formal employment opportunities in Pakistan because this is a poor country where it is very difficult to seek employment.

When Covid-19 started, there were restrictions on movement and leaving the house here. Due to this, educational activities and employment stopped and people became unemployed. In the case of refugee laborers, their employment completely stopped and their livelihood became very difficult. Those in formal employment did not suffer so much, but the process of cutting the salaries of private-sector employees started and a lot of people lost their jobs because the private institutions couldn’t afford their jobs further.

At that time when Covid-19 started, I was working in a private college as a lecturer. Colleges and schools closed, so we also sat at home. Then our college owner told us that the college could not give us a salary. So we started living on the savings we had accumulated.

The quality of education also deteriorated due to Covid-19 and the majority of primary and secondary education was affected. Universities responded to the pandemic by starting online education, but only those university students who live in cities benefited from this because the internet system works there. Rural students, however, were deprived of getting this education because in most of the villages of Pakistan the internet system is not functional.

This blog therefore summarises how Covid-19 has been affecting the lives of refugees and their education in Pakistan. The refugee community has provided help to those very poor members of their community and UNHCR has also given 12,000 rupees of emergency cash assistance to the poorest families.(1) However, due to the economic pressures of the pandemic, many refugees face the risk of never returning to school, undoing years of progress made in education for refugees, in Pakistan and around the world.

(1) UNHCR, 2020.