World Refugee Day 2021

A Call for Increased Higher Education Access for Refugee Students

June 23, 2021
Contact: Jose Magaña-Salgado (

Washington, D.C.—As we collectively honor the resilience of refugees across the globe, the Presidents’ Alliance celebrates in particular the many contributions that refugee students, staff, faculty and alumni bring to our communities. On World Refugee Day, we stand in solidarity with those who recognize that the need for pathways to safety for forcibly displaced persons is significant and urgent. Fewer than one percent of refugees world-wide are resettled each year and only three percent of refugees are able to access higher education.  

To help meet this need, the Presidents’ Alliance is partnering with other organizations on a broad-based initiative focused on increasing U.S. education pathways for refugee students. Today, only small numbers of refugee students make their way to the U.S. to study, enriching U.S. college and university campuses with their resilience, skills, and diverse perspectives and backgrounds. The initiative’s partners include the Presidents’ Alliance on Higher Education and Immigration, the UN Refugee Agency, the Global Task Force on Third Country Education Pathways, and the University Alliance for Refugees and at-Risk Migrants along with its Student Voices for Refugees Network. For more on the initiative, see here.

Miriam Cing, Co-Chair, Student Voices for Refugees Network, stated: As a former refugee myself, education has always been the key to open doors to opportunity in my life. It allows me to grow as a person and create a better future for myself. Without the support I received from RefugeeOne, Madonna Mission, and GirlForward, I would not have the privilege to get to where I am today. Now, I am a student at Trinity College with a full-ride Posse scholarship. Back in Malaysia, I did not have the chance to get an education due to financial, language, citizenship, and other barriers. Education changed my life tremendously. I want other refugee students to get an education. Therefore, I encourage universities and colleges around the world to expand education pathways for refugee students. By doing so, refugee students can have the educational opportunity to discover their full potential to make better lives for their family, community, and the world. 

Olivia Issa, Co-Chair, Student Voices for Refugees Network, stated: My college experience has presented me with so many opportunities I otherwise would not have had access to – from meeting friends from around the world, to expanding my professional connections, opening my eyes to new career paths, and more. When I think about what access to higher education would mean to students with refugee backgrounds, I think of all of those experiences, with the added protections that student housing, a consistent meal plan, student health insurance, and community support would provide. I am invested in increasing refugee access to higher education because refugee students are just like me – eager to learn and build careers – but without the protections that I so often take for granted. I find it so powerful that we have the chance to provide that safety and preparation for successful futures through higher education spaces. 

Miriam Feldblum, Co-Founder and Executive Director, Presidents’ Alliance on Higher Education and Immigration, stated: With the largest number of higher education institutions globally, the U.S. higher education community has great potential to increase refugee access to postsecondary education and, at the same time, provide safety and protection to the displaced students it welcomes. The Biden administration and U.S. higher education now have the opportunity to make a tremendous difference in the lives of many refugee students and families. Piloting new initiatives, including university sponsorship of refugee students,  could be a crucial step toward providing safety and expanding access to higher education for refugee students. As a daughter of a refugee who was able to reach the U.S. as a young man, pursue his education, build a new life, become a college professor, and give back to generations of students , I am continually humbled by the tremendous resiliency and drive of refugees, and their innumerable contributions to our communities and nation.  


The nonpartisan, nonprofit Presidents’ Alliance on Higher Education and Immigration brings college and university presidents and chancellors together on the immigration issues that impact higher education, our students, campuses, communities and nation. We work to advance just immigration policies and practices at the federal, state, and campus level that are consistent with our heritage as a ‘nation of immigrants’ and the academic values of equity and openness. The Alliance is composed of over 500 presidents and chancellors of public and private colleges and universities, enrolling over five million students in 43 states, D.C., and Puerto Rico.

Student Voices for Refugees is a network of student leaders who represent various higher education institutions and organizations, all working together to support the 15by30 target. Through various projects and initiatives, our organization aims to not only contribute to the 15by30 target of increasing refugee access to higher education to 15% percent by 2030, but also ensure that students are empowered to succeed and thrive in these institutions. To achieve this, we are building an active community of learners and leaders who are eager to engage in mutual collaboration through the exchange of resources, knowledge, and information. We operate as a primarily US-based umbrella network, of which many of our student representatives are of refugee background themselves. 

About World Refugee Day:  World Refugee Day falls each year on June 20 and is dedicated to refugees around the globe. World Refugee Day was held globally for the first time on June 20, 2001, commemorating the 50th anniversary of the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees. It was originally known as Africa Refugee Day, before the United Nations General Assembly officially designated it as an international day in December 2000.