Education in refugee camp contexts

Making School on the Margins of the Nation-States


  • Marion Fresia University of Neuchâtel
  • Andreas von Känel University of Neuchâtel
  • Anne-Nelly Perret-Clermont University of Neuchâtel


refugees, education, norms, subjectivity, humanitarian aid, camps, East Africa


The delivery of education in refugee camps has become a key component of humanitarian programs. Since the late 1980s, camps have become the dominant way through which refugee  movements are managed around the world (Agier, 2014). Children, the perfect embodiment of the innocent victim, are particularly targeted by humanitarian aid. When refugee situations become protracted and the temporary permanent, their learning structures tend to be become actual schools made of an administration, a teaching staff and a curriculum. Generally funded and coordinated by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), these camp schools contribute today to the schooling of almost 3,5 millions of refugee children (UNHCR, 2019). Going beyond an idealized vision of education as a “basic human right” and an instrument of “protection,” this article looks at the ways in which humanitarian aid contributes to establishing the school norm in the margins of the Nation-States while at the same time being closely intertwined with the politics of controlling human mobility. Based on the case studies of schools in two Congolese refugee camps (in Tanzania and Rwanda), we explore which registers of legitimization and understandings of the child they are built on; how they are governed and negotiated on a daily basis by multiple actors; and how they are perceived by the students. What emerges from this analysis are a variety of tensions that characterize the dynamics of these schools: they simultaneously include their students in and exclude them from the dominant social order; they victimize them at the same time as they project them as future citizens, and they (re)produce the conditions of their confinement while creating opportunities for certain socio-spatial mobilities.

Author Biography

Anne-Nelly Perret-Clermont, University of Neuchâtel

Professor institute of psychology and education University of Neuchâtel


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How to Cite

Fresia, M., von Känel, A., & Perret-Clermont, A.-N. (2021). Education in refugee camp contexts : Making School on the Margins of the Nation-States. Outlines. Critical Practice Studies, 22(1), 32–64. Retrieved from