He Named Me Malala: Education and the Refugee Crisis

On Friday 20 May, the Frontline Club hosted a screening of ‘He Named Me Malala’, an insightful and emotional portrait of Malala Yousafzai, that usher us into Malala’s life; both now and before she was shot by the Taliban while campaigning for Pakistani girls’ right to education. The screening was followed by a panel discussion moderated by BBC journalist Sima Kotecha, with Gulwali Passarlay, an author and Afghan political refugee, Philippa Lei, Director or Policy and Advocacy at Malala Fund, and Elin Martinez, researcher in the Children’s Rights Division at Human Rights Watch. The panel discussed the right to education for refugees, all contributing their individual expertise.

A constant theme throughout the evening was lack of access to education for refugees around the world, whether in refugee camps in Jordan, or in foster care in the UK, and what barriers need to be overcome for this to change. Passarlay arrived in the UK when he was 13 years old, after travelling for one year, through ten countries. He initially found it very difficult to access education, and describing it as “the key to freedom”. All panel members agreed that education was vital for all refugee children, with Lei commenting that many governments do not spend enough money on an infrastructure to facilitate providing education to all refugees, and that rich countries should be providing more resources to those countries that are hosting the majority of the world’s refugees, stating that: “…governments have a financial responsibility to provide an education for every child”.

The panel all dismissed the financial argument that educating and housing refugees will use up their resources, with Martinez observing that “resources can be found when they want to be”. Passarlay stated that these arguments, which create an “us and them” are unfair, asking

“Why are we blaming refugees [for austerity]? We should see refugees not as a burden, but as an investment”

And stating that, as Malala has said before, “we have a voice in the West but we take it or granted”. In agreement, Lei observed that “Malala is using her voice to bring some of that moral conscience back”, when she is not scared to ask difficult questions and talk about the issues that matter to her.

In answer to an audience member asking what do refugee children need the most, Passarlay, with agreement from the other panel members, told her that “What is in short supply is dignity, human value…understanding and compassion. Education is important, but, they are traumatised, before that they need love”.

For more information about any future screenings of ‘He named me Malala’ and the work of the Malala Fund, visit https://www.withmalala.org/