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


Agamben, G. (1995). Homo sacer. Le pouvoir souverain et la vie nue. Paris: Seuil.

Agier, M. (2008). Gérer les indésirables. Des camps de réfugiés au gouvernement humanitaire. Paris: Flammarion.

Agier, M. (2014). Un monde de camps. Paris : La Découverte

Anderson-Levitt, K. (2003). Local meanings, global schooling: Anthropology and world culture theory. New York: Palgrave MacMillan.

Banégas, R. & Warnier, J.-P. (2001). Nouvelles figures de la réussite et du pouvoir. Politique africaine, 82(2), 5-23.

Bellino, M. J.,& Dryden-Peterson, S. (2018). Inclusion and exclusion within a policy of national integration: Refugee education in Kenya’s Kakuma Refugee Camp. British Journal of Sociology of Education, 40(2), 222-238.

Bierschenk, T. (2007). L’éducation de base en Afrique de l’Ouest francophone. Bien privé, bien public, bien global. In T. Bierschenk, G. Blundo, Y. Jaffré, & M. Tidjani Alou (Eds.), Une anthropologie entre rigueur et engagement. Essais autour de l’œuvre de Jean-Pierre Olivier de Sardan (pp. 251-277). Paris: Karthala.

Bird, L. (2003). Surviving School: Education for Refugee Children from Rwanda 1994-1996. Paris: UNESCO, International Institute for Educational Planning.

Bush, K. D., & Saltarelli, D. (Eds.). (2000). The two faces of education in ethnic conflict: Towards a peacebuilding education for children. Florence, Italy: UNICEF, Innocenti Research Centre.

Cambrézy, L., Laacher, S., Lassailly-Jacob, V., & Legoux, L. (Eds.). (2008). L'asile au Sud. Paris: La Dispute.

Charton, H., & Fichtner, S. (Eds.). (2015). Faire l'école [Dossier]. Politique africaine, 139, 7-121.

Chatty, D. (2010). Deterritorialized youth. Sahrawi and Afghan refugees at the margin of the Middle East. New-York: Berghahn books.

Chelpi-den-Hamer, M., Fresia, M., & Lanoue, E. (2010). Education et conflits : les enjeux de l'offre éducative en situation de crise : introduction. Autrepart, 54, 3-22.

Crisp J., Talbot C., & Cipollone D, 2001, Learning for a Future: Refugee Education in Developing Countries, Geneva, UNHCR.

Daiute, C. (2010). Human development and political violence. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Davies, L. (2004). Education and conflict: Complexity and Chaos. Abingdon: RoutledgeFalmer.

Dryden-Peterson, S., Adelman, E., Bellino, M. J., & Chopra, V. (2019). The Purposes of Refugee Education: Policy and Practice of Including Refugees in National Education Systems. Sociology of Education, 92(4), 346-366.

Dryden-Peterson, S. (2011). Refugee Education. A Global Review. Geneva: UNHCR.

Dryden-Peterson, S. (2016a). Refugee education: The crossroads of globalization. Educational Researcher, 45(9), 473-482.

Dryden-Peterson, S. (2016b). Policies for education in conflict and post-conflict reconstruction. In K. Mundy, A. Green, B. Lingard, & A. Verger (Eds.), Handbook of Global Education Policy (pp. 189-205). Malden, MA: John Wiley & Sons.

Epstein, A. I. (2012). Maps of desire: Refugee children, schooling, and contemporary Dinka pastoralism in South Sudan (PhD thesis). Madison: University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Fichtner, S. (2012). The NGOisation of Education. Case Studies from Benin. Köln: Rüdiger Köppe Verlag.

Fresia, M., & von Känel, A. (2016) Beyond state of exception? Reflections on the camp through the prism of refugee schools. Journal of Refugee Studies, 29(2), 250-272.

Guishaoua, A. (Ed.). (2004). Exilés, réfugiés, déplacés en Afrique centrale et orientale. Paris: Karthala.

Grayson, C. L. (2017). Children of the Camp: The Lives of Somali Youth Raised in Kakuma Refugee Camp, Kenya. New York: Berghahn books.

Inter-Agency Network for Education in Emergencies. (2004). Minimum Standards for Education in Emergencies Handbook.

Kelcey, J. (2019). “Incredibly Difficult, Tragically Needed, and Absorbingly Interesting”: Lessons from the AFSC School Program for Palestinian Refugees in Gaza, 1949 to 1950. Journal on Education in Emergencies, 5(1), 12-34.

King, E. (2014). From classrooms to conflict in Rwanda. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Kirk, J. (Ed.). (2009). Certification counts. Recognizing the learning attainments of displaced and refugee students. Paris: UNESCO, International Institute for Educational Planning.

Krause, K., & Schramm, K. (2011). Thinking through political subjectivities. African Diaspora, 4(2), 115-134.

Lange, M.F. (2003). École et mondialisation: vers un nouvel ordre scolaire? Cahiers d’études africaines, 43(1-2), 143-166.

Lanoue, E. (2006). Education, violences et conflits armés en Afrique subsaharienne: Bilan critique de nos connaissances et perspectives de recherches. Paper presented at the Colloque international: Education, Violences, Conflits et Perspectives de Paix en Afrique, Yaoundé 6-10 mars 2006.

Lems, A. (2019). Being inside out: The slippery slope between inclusion and exclusion in a Swiss educational project for unaccompanied refugee youth. Journal of ethnic and migration studies, 46(2), 405-422. doi:10.1080/1369183X.2019.1584702

Lems, A., Oester, K., & Strasser, S. (2019). Children of the crisis: Ethnographic perspectives on unaccompanied refugee youth in and en route to Europe. Journal of ethnic and migration studies, 46(2), 313-335. doi: 10.1080/1369183X.2019.1584697

Machel, G. (1996). Promotion and protection of the rights of children. Impact of armed conflict on children. Report of the expert of the Secretary-General, Ms. Graça Machel, submitted pursuant to General Assembly resolution 48/157. New York: The United Nations.

Malkki, L. (1995). Purity and exile: Violence, memory and national cosmology among Hutu refugees in Tanzania. Chicago & London: The University of Chicago Press.

Monaghan, C. (2019). Asking ‘why’ and ‘how’: A historical turn in refugee education research. Journal on Education in Emergencies, 5(1), 35-61.

Mundy, K., & Dryden-Peterson, S. (Eds.). (2013). Educating Children in Conflict Zones: Research, Policy, and Practice for Systemic Change. A Tribute to Jackie Kirk. New York: Teachers College Press.

Milner, J. (2009). Refugees, the State and the politics of asylum in Africa. Basingstoke, U.K.: Palgrave Macmillan.

Murseli, H. (2019). L’Éducation en situation de conflit en République centrafricaine: les espaces temporaires d’apprentissage en question. Cahiers de la recherche sur l’éducation et les savoirs, 18, 73-93.

Oesch L. (2017). The refugee camp as a space of multiple ambiguities and subjectivities, Political Geography, 60, 110-120.

Olivier de Sardan, J.P. (2010). Développement, modes de gouvernance et normes pratiques (une approche socio-anthropologique). Canadian Journal of Development Studies/Revue canadienne d'études du développement, 31(1-2), 5-20.

Paulson, J. (Ed.). (2011). Education, conflicts and development. Oxford: Symposium Books.

Petit P. & Comhaire G. (Eds.). (2010). Le partenariat à l’épreuve du terrain. Louvain-Laneuve: Academia Bruylant.

Piper, B., Dryden-Peterson, S., Chopra, V., Reddick, C., & Oyanga, A. (2020). Are Refugee Children Learning? Early Grade Literacy in a Refugee Camp in Kenya. Journal on Education in Emergencies, 5(2), 71-107. doi:10.33682/f1wr-yk6y

Pourtier, R. (2009). Le Kivu dans la guerre: acteurs et enjeux. EchoGéo, Sur le Vif. doi:10.4000/echogeo.10793

Poncelet, M., André, G., & De Herdt, T. (2010). La survie de l’école primaire congolaise (RDC). Autrepart, 54, 23-42.

Ramírez-Barat, C., & Duthie, R. (Eds.). (2016). Transitional justice and education: Learning peace. New-York: Social Science Research Council.

Rutayisire, J., Kabano, J., & Rubagiza, J. (2004). Redefining Rwanda's future: the role of curriculum in social reconstruction. In S. Tawil & A. Harley (Eds.), Education, conflict and social cohesion (pp. 315-362). Geneva: UNESCO, International Bureau of Education.

Sigona, N. (2014). Campzenship: Reimagining the camp as a social and political space. Citizenship Studies, 19(1), 1-15.

Turner, S. (2010). Politics of Innocence: Hutu identity, conflict and camp life. New York: Berghahn Books.

United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. (2003). Education field guidelines. Geneva: UNHCR.

United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. (2007). Global report. Geneva: UNHCR.

United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. (2012). Education strategy 2012-2016. Geneva: UNHCR.

United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. (2019a). Refugee education 2030: A strategy for refugee inclusion. Geneva: UNHCR.

United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. (2019b). Stepping Up, Refugee Education in Crisis, Geneva, UNHCR.

Versmesse, I., Derluyn, I., Masschelein, J., & De Haene, L. (2017). After conflict comes education? Reflections on the representations of emergencies in ‘Education in Emergencies’. Comparative Education, 53(4), 538-557.

Vitus, K., & Lidén, H. (2010). The status of the asylum-seeking child in Norway and Denmark: comparing discourses, politics and practices. Journal of Refugee Studies, 23(1), 62-81.

Vlassenroot, K., & Huggins, C. (2005). Land, migration and conflict in eastern DRC. In C.

Huggins & J. Clover (Eds), From the ground up. Land rights, conflict and peace in sub-Saharan Africa (pp. 115-194). Pretoria: Institute for Security Studies.

White, A. (2012). ‘Every Wednesday I am happy’: Childhoods in an Irish asylum centre. Population, Space and Place, 18(3), 314-326.




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.