Confronted with a dramatic increase of refugees from neighbouring countries in conflict, the Greek Federation of Secondary State School Teachers is calling for solidarity to see that all children receive an education.

The Greek Federation of Secondary State School Teachers (OLME) President and General Secretary are urging the Greek Government to seek special funding to cover the costs of creating proper reception and accommodation centres for refugees. These centres are to provide food, health care, translation and legal services in decent living conditions. The OLME also asked the Government to ensure access to education for all children who will remain in Greece, adding that the necessary infrastructure and proper conditions should be provided for their smooth transition.

A lost generation

The union’s call comes as a recent UNICEF report, ‘Education Under Fire,’ exposed the harsh reality facing refugees, in particular children. It stated that, due to the wars in the Middle East and North Africa, 13 million children have been left without access to education. In addition, 9,000 schools in the Middle East are not operating and about 700,000 refugee children do not attend school because the existing school facilities cannot accommodate the increased number of additional schoolchildren.

Since the Balkan states closed their borders in March, thousands of refugee children in Greece have had little or no access to education. Rights organisations have warned of a “lost generation” of refugee children missing out on education. 

OLME: Call for solidarity and dialogue

 “We invite the local teacher unions and the teachers to lead the way once again,” said the OLME leadership in its 18 September statement. “We invite them to show their solidarity to refugees and immigrants in a concrete manner by organising or joining actions that aim to provide all kinds of material and moral support to refugees. At the same time, we invite them to lead discussions within the school community aiming to make young people aware of the issues pertaining to refugees and immigrants. Racist perceptions and discrimination against refugees and immigrants have no place within the education system nor within the Greek society.”

In response, local teacher unions, schools, and students have undertaken various initiatives showing their solidarity towards refugees.

Financial assistance

The OLME Executive Board has allocated funding to local teacher unions directly experiencing a higher influx of refugees; this funding is to be used to secure humanitarian aid. OLME intends to support mobilisations along with the people’s movement, to support every effort stemming either from schools or the wider social context to consolidate a society of freedom, equality and respect for human rights.

“Funding is key to the implementation of the above-mentioned educational plan,” said the OLME leadership. To date, €7 million has been used for the construction of host centres, training of teachers and teacher trainers, and the production of school textbooks. Moreover, €2.8 million is to be provided by the International Organisation for Migration to pay for children’s transportation to and from reception classes and school cleaning until December 2016.

Long-term plans

In addition, the Greek Ministry of Education hasdeveloped an induction programme for refugee children within the Greek formal educational system, addressing educational and pedagogical considerations. Of the 27,000 refugee children stranded in Greece, at least 18,000 are thought to be of school age. For the past seven months, children in camps have only had access to casual volunteer-run classes. The Ministry estimates that, towards end-September, the first reception classes will begin and other ‘regular’ classes will gradually follow, with thousands of refugee and migrant children being enrolled in Greek schools.

Meanwhile, teachers appointed to refugee reception classes and host centres for the education of refugees are receiving special training. Since the number of Greek teachers qualified to teach the children’s native languages is not sufficient, the Ministry has invited NGOs to contribute human resources.

The OLME is adamant, however, that this initial stage of reception classes should be followed by the integration of all refugee children within the mainstream school community.

EI refugee conference

Education International will be holding a conference, on the theme “Education of refugee children – Fast track to equal opportunities and integration” from 21-22 November in Stockholm, Sweden. This event will be a unique opportunity to showcase education unions’ work worldwide to ensure that refugee and migrant children get a proper education. It will also highlight unions’ efforts to ensure that refugee and migrant teachers receive good training and work and living conditions. And it will reaffirm that education is a human right of which nobody should be deprived, regardless of their circumstances.

Photo credits: Alessandra Aldini. The picture was taken in a camp of Thessaloniki during a field mission organised by the italian union UIL to support refugees living in the camps (e.g. distribution of books to children, etc.). More information on UIL's activities about refugees are available here.


The German education union GEW has placed special focus on the relationship between integration and democracy after hosting its national congress under the slogan “One for all – an inclusive school for democracy.”

The need to place schools at the centre of any inclusion policy was highlighted at the national congress of GEW, a member of Education International (EI), which took place at Frankfurt University at the End of September.

Over 400 participants heard a call for “a common and non-exclusive learning process” when determining education policy. The appeal was made by education specialist Dieter Katzenbach and underscored GEW’s demands for an education system that helps overcome social divisions.

According to statistics, 890,000 asylum seekers arrived in Germany last year.

“Many people do not believe any more in social integration through education,” stressed Ilka Hoffmann, member of the GEW governing body, adding that the role of unions is to “counter this tendency”.

EI: Education at heart of democracy

Education International’s  Deputy General Secretary Haldis Holst presented a keynote speech on the topic of ‘Transformation’. Holst explained EI’s policy regarding a human-rights based inclusion, highlighting the key role played by education in the achievement and incorporation of democratic values in a society. “Democracy is complicated,” she said. “It must be learned. It must be experienced. And learned again.” She firmly placed schools and education at the centre of the “process of learning to live together”.

Holst drew on the OECD Equity and Quality in Education reports to highlight that equity and quality enhance rather than exclude each other. “It is crucial for all actors in the education field to understand how and why inequalities multiply and intersect with each other, leading to the exclusion of already vulnerable children from quality education,” she said, while referring to EI’s Education Policy Paper, which focuses on the intersection of inequalities

The Opetusalan Ammattijärjestö, together with the Finnish trade union movement, has backed a demonstration against racism and violent right-wing extremism which received widespread national public support.

The demonstration, held in Helsinki at the end of September, was organised in response to the death of a 28-year-old Finnish man assaulted during a neo-Nazi rally earlier that month. At the demonstration, over 15,000 people joined together to fight a culture of silence that only nurtures those who seek to spread hate, according to the organisers.

The trade union movement strongly supported the action, with all three trade union confederations - Akava, SAK and STTK - encouraging their members to participate.

OAJ: Act needed against racism

“There must be zero tolerance for discrimination,” said Opetusalan Ammattijärjestö (OAJ) President Olli Luukkainen. He said Finnish teachers are “very much committed to fairness and pluralism, as an integral part of their ethics”.

Speeches are not enough, action is needed to defend tolerance, he added. This is why education sector unions have challenged all Finnish teachers and students to eradicate bullying, discrimination and hate speeches through one big campaign, he explained. The campaign’s patron is the President of the Republic, Sauli Niinistö.

The “Strong together” anti-hate campaign encourages all teachers to address the topic in their classes and promote events creating a sense of community.

“Skin colour or other human characteristics must not affect people’s ability to live fully their everyday live, get education, a job or access services,” said Luukkainen. “This is a human rights issue, so racism is clearly a crime.”

Across the country, teachers are already preparing various creative events using visual arts, music and literature. The recommended day of action is 11 November.

The National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers has highlighted the appalling impact of the global refugee crisis on the world’s children and young people, especially in terms of education.

At the UK Trades Union Congress’ Congress in Brighton on 14 September, the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers (NASUWT) President, Kathy Wallis, urged the Government to play its full part in ensuring all refugee and displaced children are able to access education and are protected from abuse and violence. She made the call while moving a motion on the impact of the refugee crisis on children.

“In the midst of destruction, violence, and instability, schools are a sanctuary, a haven of normality and hope, a place of learning and opportunity,” she said. “Neglecting a child’s right to education undermines not only their future, but also the future of their societies.”

Lack of education leaves children more vulnerable to exploitation and abuse, including recruitment into armed groups, childlabour and early marriage, Wallis stressed

Not enough spent on education

She highlighted the fact that over half of the 21 million refugees registered with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees are under 18, many travelling unaccompanied. Of these, 3.6 million are school-aged children with no access to education.

Regretting that “despite this desperate situation”, just one per cent of the global humanitarian aid budget is spent on education, she said that “the NASUWT has a proud history of working with our teacher trade union colleagues in areas such as these, providing practical assistance including financial support and training”.

Wallis acknowledged that much more must be done to support refugee and displaced children within their native countries, in neighbouring states, and in the UK.

Peter Thomson, President of the UN General Assembly, addresses the opening segment of the UN high-level summit on large movements of refugees and migrants

Education International attended the United Nations’ General Assembly's first-ever Summit for Refugees and Migrants, which reasserted the need to protect refugees and migrants’ rights, including their right to education.

With more people forced to flee their homes than at any time since World War II, world leaders came together at the United Nations (UN) on 19 September to adopt the New York Declaration. The Declaration expresses their political will to protect the rights of refugees and migrants, to save lives, and share responsibility for large movements of people on a global scale. Education International (EI) was represented at the Summit by EI Deputy General Secretary Haldis Holst, Dennis Sinyolo, Ingrid Convery and Steffen Handall (Union of Education Norway), Jill Christianson and Princess Moss (National Education Association, USA), and Wilson Sossion (Kenya National Union of Teachers).

Commitments and needs

The landmark Declaration contains bold commitments to address current issues and to prepare the world for future challenges in relation to migration. The need to start negotiations leading to an international conference and the adoption of a global compact for safe, orderly and regular migration in 2018 was highlighted. The Declaration includes commitments to:

  • Protect the human rights of all refugees and migrants, regardless of status. This includes the rights of women and girls and promoting their full, equal and meaningful participation in finding solutions
  • Ensure that all refugee and migrant children receive an education within a few months of arrival
  • Prevent and respond to sexual and gender-based violence
  • Support those countries rescuing, receiving and hosting large numbers of refugees and migrants
  • Work towards ending the practice of detaining children in order to determine their migration status
  • Find new homes for all refugees identified by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) as needing resettlement; and expand the opportunities for refugees to relocate to other countries through, for example, labour mobility or education schemes
  • Strengthen the global governance of migration by bringing the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) into the UN system.

UN: Importance of collective action

The UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon, congratulated member states saying, “Today's Summit represents a breakthrough in our collective efforts to address the challenges of human mobility.” The adoption of the New York Declaration will mean that “more children can attend school; more workers can securely seek jobs abroad, instead of being at the mercy of criminal smugglers; and more people will have real choices about whether to move once we end conflict, sustain peace and increase opportunities at home”, he said.

The UN Secretary-General launched a campaign, included in the Declaration, called 'Together – Respect, Safety and Dignity for All'. This will “respond to rising xenophobia and turn fear into hope”, he said, urging “world leaders to join this campaign and commit together to upholding the rights and dignity of everyone forced by circumstance to flee their homes in search of a better life”.

The UN Secretary General and IOM Director-General William Lacy Swing co-signed a new agreement whereby the IOM officially becomes a related organisation of the UN system.

EI: Quality teachers for refugees and migrants

The EI Deputy General Secretary Haldis Holst stressed that “governments must ensure the right to education for all refugee and migrant children and youth”.

Teachers must be adequately and professionally trained, so that they are better able to respond to the refugees’ and migrants’ learning needs, she said, adding that qualifications of refugee and migrant teachers must be recognised.

Holst also spoke at the Speak out for Dignity and Decent Work for Migrants and Refugees event organised by the Global Unions, highlighting the importance of the education of refugee and migrant children and youth, and the need to focus on teachers and other educators.

Global Unions’ concerns

The statement of the Council of Global Unions, of which EI is a member, said the outcome document for the UN high-level meeting addressing large movements of refugees and migrants contain “many positive elements”.

The outcome document “captures the urgency of dealing with the challenge and the need for mobilisation, cooperation and global governance on refugees and migrants”, the statement notes. And it stresses the importance of addressing the particular problems of women and children and of the endemic problems of discrimination, racism, and xenophobia.

Global Unions also acknowledges that the outcome document underlines the importance of education, health care and other public services, as well as the need for full access to social security and other social protections.

The outcome document also highlights the necessity for considerable efforts by governments to act together on the ground, as well as devoting resources to migration, which is an act of political will, the Global Unions statement says.

While Global Unions welcomes the commitment in the outcome document to strengthening global governance of migration and refugees, it highlights that, unlike the UN system, the IOM, while playing an important role in migration, lacks a human rights mandate, authority and legitimacy. It proposes that, as a minimum, at least one UN agency, in particular, the International Labour Organisation, should share that responsibility with the IOM.

On “circular migration”, essentially temporary migration, Global Unions says that “there is often a contradiction between promoting workers’ rights and promoting circular migration”. It insists on the fact that promotion of circular migration should not be part of the Global Compact of 2018. Instead, it should be subject to a realistic and comprehensive examination of its impact on the conditions and rights of temporary migrant workers.