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UNU-Wider working paper: Afghan refugee youth

Does more education lead to better futures for young Afghans who arrived in the UK as unaccompanied asylum-seeking children (UASC)?

Unaccompanied minors face a considerable educational disadvantage in the UK. Our research found that where qualifications have been gained by Afghan UASC care leavers, the majority remain at the basic level, with entry-level (pre-GCSE) qualifications only, and very few have progressed beyond Level 1-2 (equivalent to GCSE). However, data collated on the entrance to higher education in the last three years shows a small but significant minority who excel academically despite substantial disadvantage.

Higher levels of education have helped Afghan care leavers transition from low-skilled and manual labour work into customer-facing roles in retail, personal services, and restaurants. When university-level qualifications are gained, skilled work in the public and private sector has become accessible to over half of those with both this level of qualification and the right to work.


The data analysed in this new research demonstrates that there is a positive correlation between higher levels of education and improved socioeconomic outcomes (including better pay and better access to the formal labour market) for Afghan care leavers, particularly beyond basic education. However, the data also reveals that, in every region of the UK except one, the majority of Afghan care leavers are living with unstable immigration status and that this limits - or, in some cases, entirely negates - the benefits of education.

Precarious immigration status has been shown to both lead to and exacerbate mental health difficulties and anxiety, create significant barriers to progression in education and preclude working legally. There is, therefore, a notable group of young care leavers in the UK, who, as a result of their immigration status, are not able to transition into the ‘secure and settled futures’ which the government aspires to for care leavers more broadly.

For those with stable and more permanent forms of immigration status, additional support is still needed in order to adjust for the psychological and practical impact of the years spent awaiting this. The provision of business networking opportunities to build social capital, training in entrepreneurship and start-up skills tailored to each level of education and improved access to ongoing mental health support may begin to reduce the gap in socioeconomic wellbeing between young refugee care leavers and their peers.


Read our UNU-Wider working paper here 

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