In this policy report funded by PRM, Columbia emphasizes the distinctiveness of refugees living in urban communities and how this affects both the implementation of policies and the provision of services. First, urban refugees are often living in dispersed urban areas outside of camps, and thus must be self-reliant in order to provide for their basic needs related to educational services and livelihoods. In addition, as outsiders, they are often more vulnerable to xenophobia and discrimination by the host community. Second, the successful implementation of policies affecting urban refugees demands that the national and local government play a lead role in the provision of educational services. However, international and national civil society organizations must also play a role in supporting national education systems or providing supplementary services to address specific needs (such as psychosocial needs, language issues, disabilities, disrupted schooling) through non-formal educational programs.

Columbia found that global legal and policy instruments are broadly supportive of urban refugees’ right to education, and that these policy commitments have helped create a more welcoming policy environment in which to uphold urban refugees’ right to education. Columbia also found that commitment to international legal instruments supports more inclusive policies for urban refugees’ access to different educational opportunities.


  • Research the intersection between global and national policies and local schooling practices for urban refugees;
  • Conduct, present, publish and disseminate high quality mixed methods research that provides evidence-informed policy and programmatic recommendations at global, national and local levels for the education of urban refugees.


  • By facilitating refugee youths’ access, retention and learning achievement in national education systems, humanitarian organizations can collectively uphold children’s right to education while also providing the best preparation for their “unknowable futures”;
  • Inclusion and integration of all refugee children and youth into the national system may not always be possible for a variety of reasons ranging from political opposition, to capacity limitations, to the needs of refugee children and youth that are not well met in national schools;
  • There is a need for providing non-formal education opportunities that contribute to skills development, livelihoods and other life skills of children and youth from the refugee (and host) communities.


  • National governments, donors, and implementing partners need to design a multistakeholder data collection and management system that is shared across all key actors to gather high quality data that is accessible to all stakeholders to ensure that policymaking and program development decisions draw on the best and most reliable data;
  • Establish constructive and meaningful policymaking environments:
    • National governments, donors, and partner organizations need to raise awareness and create opportunities through field visits and related activities for government authorities and policymakers to visit and interact with representatives from refugee communities as well as host schools and communities to ensure that policies reflect the distinct needs of urban refugees;
    • National governments, with support from donors and other partners, need to ensure that different governmental offices (e.g. immigration, security, labor, education) align their policies in support of the provision of urban refugee education in an effort to avoid contradictory policies that hinder educational access;
  • Support effective policy implementation;
    • National governments, with support from donors and other partners, need to establish, disseminate and build capacity for the use of standard operational procedures to guide policy implementation across all actors;
    • Donors and international partners need to support contingency planning for national governments that encourages coordination and planning across different actors for the provision of formal and non-formal education for urban refugees in the event of refugee inflows;
  • National governments, donors and other partners need to augment pre- and in- service teacher training approaches to help host country teachers better understand the needs of refugee learners in their classrooms, leading to inclusive and supportive learning environments for both refugee and host country students;
  • Promote social cohesion among host and refugee communities:
    • National governments, donors and other partners need to develop new models and programs, through education, sports and the arts, that raise awareness and combat xenophobia and stereotypes against refugee populations;
    • National governments, donors and other partners need to improve communication and coordination with host communities who are expected to integrate refugee populations;
  • Donors and civil society organizations should work closely with national governments to ensure innovative models for funding and funding pipelines that bridge the persistent humanitarian-development divide in order to strengthen international solidarity for the countries hosting refugees.

U.S. Department of State

The Lessons of 1989: Freedom and Our Future