Teacher migration in crisis situations leaves home countries with a deficit of trained professionals for rebuilding, and receiving countries scrambling to manage an influx of workers. Like most crisis migrants, teachers in these situations are vulnerable, and often unwillingly pushed from their profession.

The forced migration model describes situations in which migrants have fled their home country or region due to crisis. In the majority of cases, the migrant is in physical danger stemming from armed conflict, situations of generalized conflict, persecution, torture, serious human rights violations, natural or manmade disasters, or environmental degradation. Some cases of extreme economic collapse have also given rise to forced migration. In this model, migrants move by force, not choice, and receiving countries receive, rather than seek, the influx. Crisis migrants are often the most vulnerable, especially refugees and asylum seekers.

Even when forced to migrate due to violence and instability, teachers maintain a strong professional identity but encounter significant structural and practical hurdles. Nonetheless, teacher refugees from Burma and Syria have demonstrated tremendous initiative to organize themselves into teachers’ unions or councils in order to continue utilizing their skills and contribute to response and recovery efforts.

Survey Highlights

“Getting Teacher Migration and Mobility Right” found that about 10% of respondents cited instability, political upheaval and natural disaster among the top three reasons for going abroad, although only 91 said it was a major factor. Of the latter, nineteen were from Spain, twelve from Colombia, nine from Jamaica, seven from the Philippines and six from the United States, all countries that have experienced economic retrenchment, suggesting that economic factors are a strong incentive to migrate. Smaller numbers were from Ecuador, Venezuela, Peru, Lebanon, Sierra Leone, South Africa, and Zimbabwe. 


For refugees and asylum seekers, circumstances depend on their legal status, the prevailing laws and regulations of the host country to which they have fled, and whether they are residing inside or outside of official refugee camps. The 1951 UN Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees and the 1967 Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees define who is a refugee, their rights (not to be returned to the country they fled) and the legal obligations of states. Countries that ratified the 1951 Convention are expected to “respect the right to asylum through the creation of national legislation” but they are not compelled to offer asylum. Thus, right to asylum and determination processes differ by country. Teachers may have unique motivations to seek asylum, especially where political violence targets education systems and teachers directly, as has been the case in Burma, Iraq, Ivory Coast, Palestine and Zimbabwe, to name but a few (Pswarayi & Reeler, 2012). 

In some refugee camps, the receiving government may insist on staffing schools first, primarily, or exclusively with teachers from the receiving country. Refugees with a secondary education are often allowed to teach in camps because there is a shortage of qualified teachers, due to low pay and difficult conditions. When these teachers leave, or are repatriated, the experience and credentials they earned in the camps are not likely to be recognized in the receiving or home country’s schools, especially if issued through an NGO or other informal provider (Penson et al. in Penson & Yonemura, 2011). Forced migrant teachers may “consider it wise to stay behind in the countries that trained them,” opting out of, or jeopardizing rebuilding efforts (Omolewa in Penson & Yonemura, 2011). For example, Liberian educators working in refugee camps in Guinea received training that was “better quality than the population would get access to in Liberia.” (Rose & Greeley, 2006) During post-conflict recovery, these teachers’ experience and training were not recognized. The International Rescue Committee (IRC) and UNHCR supported initiatives to negotiate recognition of teacher qualifications with the Liberian Ministry of Education. 

Camps contain few qualified teachers (Barry in Penson & Yonemura, 2011). Teachers, like other salaried professionals, “may not have left with the rest, preferring to stay at home or move somewhere else in the country.” When they do flee, qualified teachers may be hired by non-governmental organizations or offered “escape scholarships” to other countries. Unlike lower-skilled refugees, they can resettle more easily and find jobs, when allowed, in the host country, but they often face challenges to remaining within the teaching profession. 

More than half the world’s refugees live in urban areas. Qualified teachers are often drawn to urban centres rather than remain in dangerous and crowded refugee camps. Their ability to find work as teachers in government schools depends on whether the host country permits non-nationals to work as teachers and whether there is a mechanism to evaluate their education and teaching credentials, which may have often been lost when they fled their home country.   

In this model, schools and governments in the receiving country are forced into a reactive posture.  Rather than recruiting teachers from abroad, they respond to an influx for which they are often ill prepared. Receiving governments rarely plan to incorporate forced migrant teachers into the labour market. New influxes of forced migrants represent a potential drain to the nation’s finances and the local or receiving population may resent or resist new arrivals, all of which may discourage receiving countries from recognizing credentials. When displaced teachers cannot find work in education, or struggle with financially untenable situations, they often leave the profession, resulting in de-skilling and the loss of a valuable pool of qualified labour.


Lloyd Pswarayi and Tony Reeler (2012), ‘Fragility’ and Education in Zimbabwe: Assessing the Impact of Violence on Education. Research and Advocacy Unit. Harare: RAU, 2012.

 Pauline Rose and Martin Greeley (2006), Education in Fragile States: Capturing Lessons and Identifying Good Practice. Sussex: Inter-Agency Network for Education and Emergencies.