Political Footballs: Refugee Education in Countries of Transit and the Case-Study of Malaysia

Year: 2017

Author: Bailey, Lucy

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

Refugees may receive parts of their education in their country of origin, one or more countries of transit, and their country of resettlement. Yet, research into their educational journeys has received insufficient attention in countries of resettlement. This is largely due to a paucity of research into education available during the transition (Dryden-Peterson, 2016), which is in turn a consequence of political sensitivities in many countries of transit.
This paper will work towards addressing this gap by investigating the impact of the political and legal situation of refugee and asylum seekers in Malaysia on the education that children and young adults receive. Here, only 19% of the 4,480 children of secondary school age are enrolled in any form of formal education, and a mere 48 young people are enrolled in tertiary programmes (UNHCR, 2017). Refugees and asylum seekers have no legal status, and are neither allowed to seek legal work nor to attend government schools. As a result, most of the education they receive is discontinuous and of low quality.
Drawing on interviews with 20 children receiving secondary education and 10 young adults receiving tertiary education, we shall examine the factors enabling these young people to 'beat the odds' and remain in education. We shall discuss both the inhibitors and the facilitators to remaining in formal education, and the aspirations that young refugees have for their continued education in their country of resettlement. The paper will conclude by reflecting on the inherently political nature of refugee education, and the challenges this has posed for conducting research in this area.