Safeguarding International Students against Global Conflicts

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MOEC

14 November 2022

1188

Overview

Scholars at Risk organisation recorded around 391 attacks on higher education communities in 65 countries. This included the countries linked to the Russia - Ukraine war, the takeover of Afghanistan by the Taliban and the repercussions of the military coup in Myanmar.

Students who went to study abroad were forced to flee both Ukraine and Russia while the war between the two countries unfolded. It caused severe damage to research institutes and schools in Ukraine.

Higher education was under attack in countries which are free of armed conflict. Universities in Nigeria and Pakistan were subjected to violence by militant groups.

What is the Situation?

The safety of International students is constantly under threat due to conflicts. Recently, Scholars at Risk tracked around 391 cases of attacks on higher education communities in 65 countries around the globe. International students' safety is at stake due to such conflicts.

International students studying abroad in countries like Russia, Ukraine or countries affected by armed forces are constantly targeted. The Russia - Ukraine war forced many international students to flee from their schools and universities to save their lives. Assaults on international students are frequent. Safety for international students is a big factor before going to study abroad. But conflicts constantly terrorised education.

Education during the war is an intentional or indiscriminate threat. One example is police in Sri Lanka firing tear gas on students protesting peacefully during anti-government demonstrations. Another one is Israeli soldiers carrying out violent campus raids appearing to target student events in the West Bank. The US is also pervasive with threats to threat on education in conflict zones. Many Historically Black Colleges and Universities were targeted with multiple bomb threats. The effect of conflict on education is growing to the extent that in some countries, state authorities attempted to restrict scholars' academic activities like that in Iran. In Iran, police arrested sociologist Saeed Madani, who researches topics like drugs and sex work. Students continue to face violence and state repression during the ongoing anti-government protests sparked by the death of a 22-year-old Iranian woman.

In addition to using schools for military purposes, these attacks have resulted in child recruitment and use, as well as murders, enforced disappearances, kidnappings, forced exile, imprisonment, torture, and physical and mental harm. Landmines have also been planted near schools. Government or opposition forces may utilise schools and universities as bases, barracks, observation posts, storage facilities for weapons, detention and questioning facilities, or for military training and recruiting young people into their ranks during armed conflict. Nowadays, the bulk of wars around the world involves the use of schools by opposing sides. The presence of troops and weapons in schools can incite an attack by hostile forces, putting pupils and teachers in danger of harm or even death.

Effect of Conflict on Education

Global Coalition to Protect Education from Attack reports that there has been a pattern of attacks on teachers, students and schools in around 27 countries since 2013. The targeted groups generally include students, teachers' unions, and education institutions for military, political, ideological or religious reasons.

According to Human Rights Watch, there are frequent reports of students and schools coming under attack in war zones.  Higher education communities worldwide have suffered disastrous attacks over the past year. These attacks have deadly and career-altering consequences for students and scholars. Still, along with this, they also endanger society by vandalising higher education’s ability to drive political, social, economic and cultural progress, which benefits people.

Protecting Education in Conflict Zones

The Global Coalition to Protect Education from Attack was founded in 2010 by several UN agencies and non-governmental groups that work in higher education, protection, education in times of emergency, and international humanitarian and human rights law (GCPEA). Its objective was to safeguard pupils, teachers, academic institutions, and schools in times of hostilities. Ten years later, among other notable developments, more than half of all UN member states have accepted an international political commitment to preserving education. A UN international day to protect education from the attack has been established. Some of the most vulnerable people in the world—young people, living in war zones—are having their lives spared and their right to an education safeguarded.

Daniel Munier, senior advocacy officer at SAR, said the government should redouble their investment and consider planning more sustainable infrastructure for quicker response to support at-risk scholars. He also added that states should work to prevent and understand attacks on academic freedom by establishing groups that can examine attacks, such as the UN’s Universal Periodic Review Process and publicly commit to protecting education in conflict zones.

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