Connecting Refugees Across Borders

Global Challenges Counter-extremism

Connecting Refugees Across Borders

Posted on: 1st February 2019
Emily Laurie
Senior Policy Adviser, Tony Blair Institute for Global Change

Approaching the Zaatari refugee camp, 4 kilometres from the Syrian border, I was reflecting on my past four days in Jordan. I had seen the borders of Palestine, Israel and Egypt, and been less than 10 kilometres from Saudi Arabia and now Syria. I had seen people from all over the region meet and realise they are distant family members. I had heard how in many ways, people identify more as Northerners—from the North of Jordan, Syria and Palestine—than as people from different countries.

There is no other region where borders mean so much, and yet for many people going about their everyday lives, they seem to mean so little. But there they are: all these borders in such a small area, creating a sense of us and them, a sense of the other. Never have I more clearly understood the importance of teaching children about what connects them with their neighbours rather than what divides them. This is exactly what Generation Global, a global education programme run by our Institute, aims to achieve.

In my first meeting in the camp, I hear that there are 22,000 students who share 16 schools, in a split-shift system in which different children use the same school in morning and afternoon shifts. This effectively doubles the number of schools from 16 to 32. The system is a response to the vast numbers of children who have been forced to cross the Syrian border into Jordan since the start of the Syrian Civil War in 2011. It is estimated that just over 50 per cent of Syrian refugees in Jordan are school-age children; the scale of the education response has been, and continues to be, a mammoth task.

We move on and visit one of the schools and meet some of the students who have been taking part in our Generation Global programme, whose tag line is “navigating difference through dialogue”. The programme teaches students and teachers how to discuss differences in faiths, cultures and histories in an open-minded and peaceful manner. After some training, students are connected with others in different communities and countries to discuss a range of topics. They can also connect across borders using a secure online dialogue platform. The girls I met beamed as they noted how they connect with other students outside the camp and are enjoying making friends remotely.

It is estimated that just over 50 per cent of Syrian refugees in Jordan are school-age children; the scale of the education response has been, and continues to be, a mammoth task.

It is clear from spending a few hours with the students and teachers that Generation Global allows them not only to connect with others beyond the borders of the camp but also to connect in a more peaceful and positive way with each other and with their families. The teachers noted a remarkable reduction in bullying since they learned through the teaching of dialogue how to be more open-minded and tolerant. The girls described how they had taken their learning home and were arguing less with their siblings and parents. The headteacher reflected on how she believes the programme has led to a reduction of violence among students and by the students outside the classroom, in other areas of the camp.

The importance of this kind of learning experience—in refugee camps, in the Middle East and in every corner of the world—is clear. Young people need to learn the skills of dialogue, critical thinking and open-mindedness, and to connect with other young people around the world to discuss commonalities if we are to achieve a more peaceful, productive and interconnected world. Global citizenship education policy comes close to addressing this type of learning, but this approach of educating children to listen to, critically reflect on and understand differences is not yet accepted as mainstream across education systems in the way that the world needs.

This work breaks down differences and helps young people to build understanding and resilience to extremist ideas and ideology. Quality education for all, globally, that prioritises these skills and approaches will take societies a step closer to preventing the rise of extremist ideas and violently extreme actions.


Since Generation Global started working with partners in the Zaatari camp in 2014, our Institute has trained more than 200 teachers and carried out more than 50 virtual connections. More than 1,000 Syrian refugees have taken part in the programme, with many more to benefit from planned work this year and beyond. The students I met said they can’t wait to connect with other young people from Egypt, Lebanon, Turkey, the UK and farther afield. This is possible thanks to Generation Global, which works in all of these and nearly 50 more countries.

Generation Global also works with the Jordanian Ministry of Education in over 100 government schools across the country. This is the first year of the partnership, which is set to expand and develop over the next few years. Our Institute will work with the Government of Jordan, and governments all over the world, to make policy changes to deliver education systems that allow young people to connect across borders, navigate difference with dialogue and learn skills to approach the future in a positive and peaceful manner.

My time in the Zaatari camp brought home to me how educating young people to be resilient to divisive narratives urgently needs to be a part of all education systems, no matter the context.

Featured Article

Find out more