19 June 2023 - Global

Top refugee hosting countries spend as much on debt interest as cost to educate refugee children for five years - Report

Sebastian*, 16, in the camp where the family lives in Colombia

Sebastian*, 16, has been out of school in Colombia since fleeing Venezuela four years ago. Credit: Save the Children  

Ahead of World Refugee Day, Save the Children’s new report, The Price of Hope, found four out of 14 low- and middle-income countries hosting high levels of refugees spent more servicing external debt than on education in 2020.  

•Fourteen top refugee-hosting countries paid over US$23 billion in external debt interest in 2020 – enough to educate all refugee children in low- and middle-income countries for nearly five years. 

•Save the Children says a generation of refugee children could be deprived of the education they need to restore their future.   

LONDON/ GENEVA 19 June– Fourteen nations, which host more than half of the world’s refugees, are paying as much in interest on external debt as it would cost to educate millions of refugee children for nearly five years, according to a new report by Save the Children calling for greater priority to be given to educate children on the move.  

The findings, launched in the report The Price of Hope ahead of World Refugee Day, found that the world’s top 14 refugee-hosting countries with available debt data spent US$23 billion on interest payments for external debt in 2020, with four of those spending more on external debt payments than on education.

The report highlights the fact that debt burdens are threatening countries’ ability to properly fund education for refugees, a situation only anticipated to worsen as the number of people forcibly displaced rises to a new high of 108.4 million and some of the poorest host countries face a  bleak economic outlook. 

Education is one of the least funded humanitarian areas, receiving just 3.1% of global humanitarian financing in 2021, with appeals for education receiving just 22% of the funds required.  

Around the world, refugee children are disproportionately concentrated in low- and middle-income countries where learning poverty is high and education systems struggle to meet the needs of learners. More than half of all lower income countries globally are currently either in or at high risk of debt distress, meaning already struggling education systems are likely to worsen for refugees.   

Save the Children is warning that there is now a real and present danger that a generation of refugee children will be deprived of the education they need to restore their future.

“Some of the poorest countries host the highest numbers of refugees – and their economic outlook is bleak. Often, their education systems are underfunded and failing to meet the needs of the most marginalised children,” said Hollie Warren, Head of Education at Save the Children. “Debt relief could play a critical role in mobilising the scale of funding required to ensure every refugee child has access to education. But the longer we wait, the worse the situation will get for these children.”  

In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, many countries prioritised health and social protection spending over education. Education budgets in countries reliant on development aid now face further squeeze as donors are increasingly diverting aid towards mitigating the consequences of the war in Ukraine and other crises, including spending on hosting refugees in their own countries at the expense of supporting lower income host countries. 

Refugee children globally miss out on an average of three to four years of schooling due to forced displacement, according to UNHCR.  Despite progress in the number of refugee students enrolled in schools globally, the continued rise in forced displacement due to conflict, the hunger crisis and climate change means that about half of all refugee children remain out of school. 

In Colombia, Sebastian*, 16, has been out of school for four years after his family fled Venezuela for a better life. Save the Children is helping children like Sebestian in Colombia catch-up on lost learning and gain the skills they need to build a bright future. 

“My sisters go to school, but I have not been able to go because of the tuition, and my mom does not have the money for that or the school supplies and the uniform,” said Sebastian. “I have been out of school for 4 years; since I left Venezuela and arrived in Colombia. For me going to school is important because I can make friends and share with them, I will learn, I will have a teacher that teaches me, and all of that, will help me in my future to get ahead.” 

He added: “My hopes for the future are: first return to school and sit at a desk, and second go to a university to help kids that have problems going to school. My advice for everyone is to never lose faith. Every moment has its beginning and end, and every boy and girl will be able to go to school again and their dreams come true.” 

Integrating refugee children into national education systems is the most effective and sustainable way to meet their need for relevant, quality, and accredited education. Many host governments have put suitable policies in place to make this happen. However, without adequate international support, education systems that are under-resourced and already stretched thin are simply unable to handle a large influx of refugee students and meet their complex needs.  

Hollie Warren continued: 

“There are more forcibly displaced children around the world now than at any other time in modern history. Host countries are responding to this crisis with generosity, opening their borders and education systems to extremely vulnerable and marginalised children who would otherwise have nowhere else to go or learn. 

Yet, the international community is responding to refugees with increasing hostility, while also reducing aid budgets, leaving some of the poorest countries in the world to shoulder the responsibility and the cost of educating the word's refugees. These children have been through hell fleeing conflict, hunger, or climate crises, and now urgently need stability and hope for a brighter future.” 

Save the Children is calling on the international community to mobilise the funding needed to meet the annual US$4.85 billion cost of providing education to refugees and strengthening education systems in low- and middle-income countries.  The aid agency is also calling for all refugee children to have access to national education systems in the countries they reside in, or to accredited non-formal education where the former is not possible. 

Save the Children also calls for donors and international development partners to provide timely debt relief for countries whose debt burdens are threatening their ability to adequately invest in education. Debt relief mechanisms should be transparent, inclusive of all creditors, including the private sector, and address fears of credit rating downgrades for debtor nations seeking relief. 


Find Save the Children’s Price of Hope report here.  

Multimedia content from Colombia is available here.

Notes to Editor: 

·       Fourteen out of the world’s top 20 refugee hosting countries with available data on education spending vs external debt servicing for 2020, hosted a combined 23,811,176 refugees and other people in need of international protection, 58.7% of the global refugee and refugee-like condition population, 40.5 million 

·       Save the Children’s Price of Hope report reveals, 14 out of the world’s top refugee hosting countries, Türkiye, Jordan, Colombia, Pakistan, Uganda, Russia Federation, Sudan, Peru, Bangladesh, Ethiopia, Iran (Islamic rep. Of), Chad, Ecuador, and the Democratic Republic of Congo, spent US$23 billion on interest payments alone for external debt, according to World Bank International Debt Statistics. The other six nations in the top 20, were either high income countries – Germany, Poland and France – or did not have available data on education spending or debt servicing – occupied Palestinian territory (oPt), and Syria.  Lebanon was excluded from this analysis because the government defaulted on US$1.2 billion worth of Eurobonds in 2020. It is unclear if the debt statistics from that time reflects what was actually paid or what was due to be paid before this default. 



For further enquiries please contact:

-          Samantha Halyk – Samantha.halyk@savethechildren.org

-          Our media out of hours (BST) contact is media@savethechildren.org.uk / +44(0)7831 650409

Hollie Warren, Head of Education at Save the Children, is available for interviews (based in London).


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