Migrants, refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs) are persons away from their home region or country who often face challenges in enjoying the right to education. Due to migration – forced or not – schooling for children and adolescents is often disrupted.

Migrants (legal or illegal) and refugees have crossed an international border while internally displaced people have not and remain under the protection of their own State.

Refugees and internally displaced persons have often fled their homes for similar reasons: armed conflict, generalised violence or human rights violations. Internally displaced persons may also have fled to avoid natural disasters.

Refugees have a specific status that protects them in international law. (See Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees)

Illegal migrants’ children and unaccompanied children are particularly vulnerable. Illegal migrants’ children are often under threat of expulsion or in some cases cannot register at school due to their status. Unaccompanied children are more likely to be vulnerable to exploitive labour, sexual violence and army recruitment. The Special Rapporteur on the Right to Education notes that the international legislation applicable to the situation of independent child migrants remains incomplete as it fails to specifically address the circumstance of most unaccompanied child migrants (2010 Report of the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Education : the Right to Education of Migrants, Refugees and Asylum-seekers)

Internal Displaced Persons are also vulnerable as they are still under the geographic jurisdiction of their own State, which in some cases may be the perpetrator of their displacement. In instances where internally displaced persons are denied education by the State, they have no further recourse at the domestic level and it is then the duty of the international community to facilitate the fulfilment of the right to education (Amy S. Rhodes, Displaced Futures: Internally Displaced Persons and the Right to Education, 2010).

Refugees are also vulnerable. Sometimes, refugee children are denied education because host States do not provide or cannot provide primary education for their own children. In some situations, they have no or very limited access to post-primary education or other types of training. When they are in refugee camps, poor infrastructure, inadequate resources and the lack of trained teachers are common limitations. Consequently, the quality of education may be poor, the hours limited and school materials may be lacking (UN Refugee Agency).

All migrants often face challenges receiving education in their mother tongue.

“Women, men, boys and girls of all ages and backgrounds — whether migrants, refugees, asylum-seekers, stateless persons, returnees or internally displaced persons — have the right to education”. (2010 Report of the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Education : the Right to Education of Migrants, Refugees and Asylum-seekers)
International and regional instruments that generally guarantee the right to education to everyone without discrimination also applies to migrants, refugees and internally displaced persons.

In addition, the right to education of migrants is specifically protected by the Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of their Families and the European Convention on the Legal Status of Migrant Workers which guarantees their access to education on the basis of equality of treatment with nationals.

The right to education of refugees is specifically guaranteed by the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, which states that refugees should have the same treatment as nationals with respect to elementary education and treatment as favourable as possible with respect to other education levels.

There is no convention for internally displaced persons (IDPs) equivalent to the 1951 Refugee Convention at international level. But at regional level, the African Union adopted the 2009 Convention for the Protection and Assistance of Internally Displaced Persons, which stipulates that the “States Parties shall provide internally displaced persons to the fullest extent practicable and with the least possible delay, with adequate humanitarian assistance, which shall include … education…” (Article 9.2.b). In situations of armed conflict, they are also protected by international humanitarian law. In 1998, the UN developed Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement, which restate and compile human rights and humanitarian law relevant to IDPs. Principle 23 relates to their right to education.

Specific provisions on migrants, refugees and internally displaced persons

For more details, see International Instruments – The Right to Education of Migrants, Refugee and Internally Displaced Persons


General provisions on the right to education and non-discrimination