Earlier this year a delegation from Bulgaria composed of unionists, education staff and local authorities’ representatives visited Spain to share practices with Spanish counterparts with regards to integrating newcomers and refugees in education and explore joint strategies to tackle common challenges.

The peer-to-peer visit took place from 10 to 14 April 2018 in Valencia, Mislata and Aldaia where the host union FECCOO has been implementing a number of initiatives aiming to promote the education rights of newcomers since 2016. The president of the Bulgarian union SEB, Yanka Takeva and the mayor of Lyulin, a district of Sofia, Milko Mladenov, were amongst the Bulgarian delegates, together with teachers and school principals. 

The group visited the IES La Morería in Mislata and attended one of the artistic activities implemented with students and education staff by FECCOO throughout the schoolyear, as part of its programme “School without borders” (Escuela sin fronteras). The group also had the opportunity to exchange practices and pedagogical techniques with administrative and teaching staff in Colegio Santa Creu of Mislata. 

The delegation met with all partners collaborating with FECCOO in advocacy activities in favour of refugees’ rights: cultural center Ker África, the local education authorities (Consellería d’Educació, Investigació, Cultura y Sport), the mayors of Valencia and Mislata, the Accomodation Centre for Refugees in Mislata (Centro de Acogida a Refugiados, CAR) and the local section of the Comisión Española de Ayuda al Refugiado (CEAR). 

Finally, a closing “working” meeting was organized with local and national representatives of FECCOO and its confederation CCOO, to discuss the role of unions in promoting the rights of migrants and refugees and democratic values.

In the context of its  fight against the end of guaranteed pension benefits in the British higher education sector, the University and College Union had written to the Home Office to seek clarity on the exclusion of legal strike action from the annual 20-day limit for unpaid absence from work applying to migrant workers on Tier 2 visas.

At the time, the immigration minister Caroline Nokes simply responded that "full regard will be given to the circumstances" when making decisions about immigration status.

UCU general secretary Sally Hunt and shadow chancellor John McDonnell wrote a piece, stressing that migrant workers needed absolute certainty about their rights and calling for an "unequivocal, written guarantee" that days spent taking legitimate strike action would not put migrant workers' immigration status at risk.

Last week, the current Home Secretary Sajid Javid responded positively to the union’s request, saying that he “will be making changes to the guidance and Immigration Rules for migrant workers (under the Tier 2 and 5 immigration routes) and their sponsors. The specific change will add legal strike action to the list of exceptions to the rule on absences from employment without pay for migrant workers”.

UCU general secretary, Sally Hunt, said: 'International staff make a vital contribution to our country and we are delighted that they can now play a full role at work without fear of reprisal. All workers should be able to join their colleagues in defending their employment rights.

'Strike action is never taken lightly, but the previous lack of clarity meant migrant workers who needed to take unpaid leave for other reasons could not risk taking part for fear of risking their right to remain in the country.'

Source: “Home secretary changes rules to ensure migrant workers can take strike action”, UCU, 12 July 2017.

In the frame of the ETUCE/EFEE project “European Sectoral Social Partners in Education promoting effective integration of migrants and refugees in education”, a delegation of education unions and employers’ representatives met in Madrid on 16 and 17 May 2018, to discuss good practices and challenges in the Spanish education system with regards to policies on inclusion and integration.

Throughout the study visit, participants learned from Spanish representatives about the impact of enduring budget cuts, education system segmentation and the lack of a national strategy addressing specifically the integration of migrants and refugees in schools and education institutions. While learning from the different social partners, school communities, parents and students representatives’ perspectives and good practices in the course of the first day, the delegation had the chance to visit the ACE (Aula de Compensacion Educativa) center of the La Senda high school and to witness the difficult professional and working conditions of teachers and educators dealing with students of migrant origins and from disadvantaged background. Teachers, trainers, the school leader and union representatives from the school explained the potential support they would need to deliver quality education to those students coming from the most disadvantaged background. They shed light on the biggest obstacles they face for a real inclusion in education, including the deteriorating working conditions of those teachers working in public schools from the most disadvantaged areas: precarious contracts and lack of continuity in teaching and learning was felt as one of the biggest challenge to effective integration. The study delegation had the opportunity to draw the attention of the Spanish Ministry of Education, Culture and Sport to the challenges facing schools and education institutions in this regard. 

The ETUCE-EFEE project aims to promote successful methods of migrant education in schools as well as evaluating current policies and practices, to establish a concrete set of proposals and recommendations for national member organisations and governments. Two additional study visits in Serbia and Belgium and two seminars in Denmark and Cyprus will be organized in the coming months. A research report, a video documentary, practical guidelines and a draft quality framework of effective practices are amongst the main deliverables of the project.

You can find more information about the project here.

Education is a human right and a public good helping to enable people at all stages in their lives to achieve their maximum potential. This includes the right to learn and right to teach for refugees and migrants in every corner of the world.

June 20th is an important day to recognise the hardships and challenges refugees have been through and celebrate their strength and courage. It is also imperative to continue to advocate that they are treated with dignity and demand the full respect of their human rights by governments, political actors and national institutions.
Educators on all continents have been on the foreground of refugee and migrant issues, as migrants and refugees themselves and as teachers and support personnel working to create welcoming schools and safe environments for all learners. 

This year in conjunction with World Refugee Day, Education International and a consortium of 10 partners, launches “Resilient teachers, students and education systems in South Sudan and Uganda” (BRICE), a project funded by the European Commission and led by Oxfam IBIS.

Safe, quality education for all learners

The project, which will be implemented from 2018 to 2022 in South Sudan and Uganda, will contribute to improved access and completion of safe quality education for learners in fragile and crisis-affected environments through the delivery of safe quality education models and continuous in-service professional development, as well as multi-stakeholder dialogue and data collection.

Civil war and violent conflicts in South Sudan have totaled close to 2.2 million refugees. The majority of South Sudanese refugees have fled to Uganda where the current number is close to 1.03 million. An average 2,000 refugees cross to Uganda every day and over 60 percent of the new arrivals are children.

More than 85 percent of the total south Sudanese refugee population are women and children who need education, as well as child protection and Sexual and Gender Based Violence (SGBV) prevention. In total, there are 1.8 million children out of school in South Sudan. In this project, Education International will lead the global advocacy strategy and coordinate the teacher’s professional development in Uganda.

The rights of refugee children and teachers

More than 1,000 teachers will benefit from professional development support and around 100 politicians and officials will be invited to participate in a dialogue on how to improve conditions and access to education for children and teachers in conflict affected areas.

Over the past few years, Education International and affiliates have been developing numerous activities to fulfil the rights of refugee children and teachers worldwide and facilitate their integration in their host education system.

Capacity building, research, including the compilation study Education: Hope for Newcomers in Europe and advocacy activities co-funded by OSF, have been carried out in nine European countries since 2016.

In Jordan and Lebanon, training activities were implemented with the support of the Friedrich Ebert Foundation. A regional workshop was also held in Addis Ababa in September 2017 and several affiliates from African countries have started developing work in this area.

A l’occasion de la Journée Mondiale des Réfugiés, Gloria Ihirwe Ntakirutinka, jeune réfugiée rwandaise poursuivant des études supérieures au Sénégal, fait part de son expérience et de son combat en faveur de l’accès à l’enseignement supérieur pour les réfugié(e)s. 

Pouvez-vous vous présenter brièvement ? Pourquoi avez-vous décidé de militer en  faveur de l’éducation des réfugiés ?

Je me nomme Ihirwe, j'ai 21 ans et je suis étudiante en troisième année de droit public. J’ai  grandi dans une famille qui a trouvé refuge dans un pays d’Afrique de l’Ouest après avoir fui le génocide rwandais. Ce pays –le Togo – fut celui qui me vit grandir. En grandissant je voyais mes parents - surtout ma mère - qui travaillaient très dur pour subvenir à nos besoins. Devenue plus grande, comprenant mon statut de réfugiée et la situation de ma famille qui avait tout perdu, je compris qu’une seule chose pouvait m’aider à atteindre mes objectifs : l’éducation. 

Quel a été votre parcours afin de poursuivre vos études dans l’enseignement supérieur ?

Après l’obtention du baccalauréat, j’étais désemparée car je savais que mes parents ne seraient pas en mesure de payer mes études supérieures qui s’avéraient très chères. Quelle ne fut pas ma joie lorsque je fus sélectionnée, après avoir déposé une candidature à une bourse d’excellence du Haut-Commissariat des Nations Unies pour les Réfugiés me permettant de poursuivre mes études pour la durée d’une licence au Sénégal. Alors que je suis en train d’effectuer ma dernière année de licence, je continue de rechercher une bourse pour effectuer un master l’année prochaine car la bourse dont je bénéficie actuellement ne prend pas en charge les études de second cycle. 

Quelles sont les difficultés auxquelles vous avez été et êtes confrontée en tant que réfugiée, pour accéder à des études supérieures?

Trouver une bourse n’est pas facile la plupart du temps car dans nos pays d'asile, nous n'avons pas accès aux bourses des nationaux alors que normalement nous devrions être traités comme des nationaux. Par ailleurs, l’accès à des bourses étrangères peut s’avérer difficile à cause de nos titres de voyage qui parfois paralysent l'avancée du dossier. Sans bourse, faute de moyens financiers de nos familles, il est très difficile d’accéder à l’enseignement supérieur. 

Que signifie pouvoir accéder à l’enseignement supérieur pour un(e) jeune réfugié(e) ?

Parfois, les réfugiés sont victimes de xénophobie car ils sont perçus comme des personnes incapables qui vivent aux crochets de la société. Or, à travers l’accès à l’éducation, c’est précisément notre autonomie, notamment financière, que nous recherchons car nous voulons sortir nos familles de la misère et être de vraies aides pour nos parents qui se sont donnés corps et âmes pour nous offrir un futur. 

Quel message souhaitez-vous délivrer à ce sujet en cette journée mondiale consacrée aux réfugiés ?

Je dirais que la plus belle chose à offrir à toute personne est l’éducation, mais pour des personnes qui ont tout perdu, c’est plus que cela, c’est leur offrir l' opportunité de bâtir leur vie, l'éducation est comme une main forte ou encore une voix rassurante qui te murmure à l'oreille que « tout peut être reconstruit en partant de rien » et cela te pousse à espérer que tout ira pour le mieux. 

Le système semble parfois oublier les jeunes refugiés, filles comme garçons, qui luttent pour construire une vie, pour eux-mêmes, pour leurs familles et pour l’ensemble de la communauté. Nous aimerions avoir les mêmes chances d'accès à l’éducation que les nationaux , nous  aimerons aussi une reconnaissance de nos titres de voyage car parfois même avec un bon dossier, on se voit refuser un visa. 

« A défaut d’éducation et de qualifications nous permettant de bâtir notre futur, nous sommes condamnés à espérer l’aide de la communauté. Or, si l’on avait eu en temps voulu, l’opportunité d’étudier comme les autres, nous pourrions changer le monde, c’est à dire nous-même, nos familles, la communauté et apporter notre pierre à l’édifice », voilà ce que dirait cette jeunesse laissée sur le bord de la route et qui se retrouvera contre son gré à la charge de tous, si rien ne change.