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Isolation from global problems not possible, says Julia Gillard

Aleppo, July 2016 Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption A family in the rubble after attacks on Aleppo in Syria's civil war

It is no longer possible for Western countries to isolate themselves from events such as the refugee crisis in the Middle East, says Julia Gillard.

The former Australian prime minister, now head of an international education fund, says the "repercussions" will affect all countries.

Ms Gillard says the global community needs to support efforts to provide education for displaced young people.

Education for refugees provided support "in the depths of crisis", she said.

Ms Gillard, speaking to the BBC in London, warned that every country, on grounds of both morality and self-interest, should support the education of young people caught up in conflict.

And she rejected the idea that countries could turn away from international responsibilities.

"Whether it's debates about immigration, people's movement into Europe, or looking back at the Iraq war, the underlying theme is that in today's world, something happening in any part of the world has repercussions for the rest of the world.

"It's not like the old days when somewhere geographically remote would never touch you," said Ms Gillard.

"That's not the world we're living in. It's a connected world in every sense. That means that good things and bad things have consequences for the rest of the world."

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Julia Gillard says the repercussions of conflict reach to all countries

Ms Gillard, chair of the Global Partnership for Education (GPE), said there were an estimated 75 million young people living in conflict zones and that providing them with an education was the most "hard-headed" way to promote "peace and prosperity".

When children became refugees, she said only about a quarter were likely to get to school, threatening to permanently damage their chance of qualifications, work and a stable future.

The destruction of war exacerbated the problems of millions of children already missing out on education, particularly girls.


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"The statistic that always sends chills down my spine and makes me very anxious is that at the current rate of change it won't be until 2111 before we see the first generation of sub-Saharan African girls universally going to primary and lower secondary school."

She says her own family's experience shows how much education systems can make progress.

"My father was born in 1928 in a Welsh coal mining village and he left school when he was 14. That was the UK of the last century, now kids don't leave school, they get the opportunity to stay on and it's built this society."

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Conflict around Lake Chad has seen 2.8 million people forced out of their homes

She says that she wants a similar "virtuous circle" of improved access to education and an improved economy for poorer countries around the world.

While there might be concerns about migration in the West, she says that often it is the poorest countries, closest to conflicts, that face the toughest humanitarian challenges.

She gives the example of Chad, a central African country which has seen large numbers of refugees coming across its borders.

The United Nations says there are now 2.8 million people in the area surrounding Lake Chad who have been forced out of their homes by the violence of the Boko Haram terror group.

"Chad is trying to build its education system and has seen a huge influx of people - and they're trying to bring children into their school system.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Lessons of war: Syrian children in a refugee camp in Jordan

"It's an enormous act of generosity if you think about it. It's a very poor country, but when people come across their borders they say we have an obligation to teach them too."

The GPE, with the UK among its biggest donors, has funded the construction of classrooms and the training of teachers in Chad. It's one of 65 developing countries supported by the international education organisation.

Ms Gillard says she is also heartened by this year's creation of an international emergency fund for education, called Education Cannot Wait.

She campaigned alongside former UK prime minister Gordon Brown, now a United Nations special envoy, to set up this fund to provide education for families caught up in conflicts and natural disasters.

"Traditionally in a crisis people have thought about food and water, medical attention, shelter. But they haven't thought about education.

"But when displaced people are surveyed about what they want for themselves and their families, they put education right at the top of the list.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption A Syrian refugee in Germany is congratulated after completing a German language course

"They need the things that sustain life from one 24 hours to the next. But when they think about the future, what they want is education for their children, because it's their only hope of long term change."

It also gives traumatised youngsters a reassuring sense of normality, she says.

"The evidence is clear, education provides social support for those families in conflict, socialises them as well as educates," she says.

"It's an emotional and social support to them in the depths of crisis.

"When you think about what many of these children have been through and what they've seen, that kind of simple normality can be very healing."