At the end of 2018, the third case study visit of the ETUCE/EFEE project “European Sectoral Social Partners in Education promoting effective integration of migrants and refugees in education” took place in Belgium, organised with the support of EI/ETUCE member organisation in Belgium, ACOD-Onderwijs, partner to this project. The visit aimed at identifying challenges, concrete solutions and joint social partners’ initiatives for effectively integrating migrants and refugees in education. ETUCE and EFEE representatives, the research expert accompanying the project and a project advisory group representative from Cyprus had the opportunity to familiarize with good practices and challenges in the Flemish education system regarding policies of inclusion and integration.

Participants engaged in fruitful dialogue with representatives from the Flemish Ministry of Education, education employers’ organisations and community organisations, as well as with teachers, school leaders, migrant and refugee students, to better understand the Flemish educational context of migrants’ integration and the role of social partners within.

Despite the shared goal of delivering equal educational opportunities for all, the many efforts and good practice examples on how to provide newcomers with a quick access to mainstream education and to language learning, challenges remain as regards, for example, teaching and learning in a second language. According to interviewed teachers and school leaders, the use of the mother-tongue is central to allow migrant and refugee students to nurture their learning process. “In our daily work, there is an on-going tension between an holistic approach to deliver equal educational opportunities and flexible and individual learning paths”, said a school leader in Antwerp.

Education personnel engaged in schools enrolling big numbers of students of migrant origin recognise the need for specific competences to cater for the needs of migrant and refugee students, especially through initial training and continuous professional development programmes that fit the needs of those dealing with the everyday needs of migrants and refugee students. In this context, intercultural skills, social workers’ aptitudes and competences, coaching and psychosocial support are deemed of utmost importance to deal, for example, with traumatised students. Recognising that migrant and refugee children carry with themselves specific needs but also their own resources and strengths, a secondary school teacher in Antwerp said: “When I first started, four years ago, I felt I expected very little out of the learning process of the migrant and refugee students I was teaching to. Now, I realise I need to set myself higher expectations because the life of these children moves on, and it has to move on”.

On International Migrants Day, Education International reaffirms its commitment to defend and promote the rights of migrant workers and refugees as well as migrant and refugee teachers and education personnel.

Education International (EI) and Global Unions call on Governments to ratify and implement United Nations (UN), International Labour Organisation (ILO) conventions and other international instruments to protect migrant workers’ rights and, especially, their right to join and form trade unions.

The recent adoption of the Global Compact for Safe, orderly and Regular Migration at the Intergovernmental Conference in Morocco on 10-11 December was a ground-breaking agreement in international migration governance. This agreement is not legally binding, but provide a framework for international cooperation on migration. In addition, there is a Global Compact on Refugees, which does not replace the 1951 UN Refugee Convention or the 1967 Protocol on Refugees.

Ensuring migrants’ access to quality public services

“Education Is an important in the new Global Compact for Migration, and so are the other human rights of migrants,” EI General Secretary David Edwards highlighted, also insisting on the importance of a whole-of-society approach to migration at local and national levels.

Edwards also underlined that host and transit countries should ensure migrants’ access to quality public services, in particular, their access to quality public education regardless of their migration status: “We should make our education systems, schools and all education institutions more inclusive, sensitive and responsive to the needs of migrant children and youth. Governments need to ensure that the curriculum and learning materials reflect the ever increasing diversity of the student population, and are developed with the full involvement of educators and their unions. Furthermore, Governments should work, in cooperation with education unions, to enable the recognition of the qualifications of migrant and refugee teachers.”

Addressing the root causes of migration and displacement

Noting that “the Global Compact offers a much-needed encouragement for Member States to work with other nations, the UN, trade unions, civil society organisations and others, to tackle the pressing challenges related to international migration,” Edwards stressed that this agreement “provides an opportunity for the UN and governments to address the root causes of migration and displacement. The UN, its agencies and governments need to prevent and tackle conflict head on; to combat conflict, violence, poverty, climate change and its devastating consequences on the environment and human life; and to deal with economic inequities within and across countries and regions.”

Edwards added that, “ensuring peace and political stability and improving socio-economic conditions in home countries will make migration an option rather a necessity for millions of people on the move. Let’s remember that people have the freedom to move and the right to migrate, but shouldn’t be forced to do so by circumstances beyond their control.”

Making a real difference in the lives of migrant workers on the ground

Finally, the EI leader acknowledged that “the ultimate measure of the success of the Global Compact will be whether it makes a real difference in the lives of migrant workers on the ground by ensuring freedom of association, their rights to form and join trade unions, to social protection and to engage in collective bargaining.  Through their unions and communities, many migrant workers will continue to organise and mobilise. The Global Compact should be supportive as a vehicle to promote decent work, economic and social justice.”


The global trade union movement has criticised 13 governments that have confirmed that they will not sign the historic Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration (GCM). Rather than contribute to resolving the pressing issues connected with migration and moving towards coherence and global governance of migration, they have preferred to use the Compact as an opportunity to appeal to nationalist and extremist anti-migrant sentiment.

The Council of Global Unions (CGU), grouping Global Unions representing sectoral and professional unions and trade union national centres, in a statement, maintains that as migration is, by its nature, a cross-border phenomenon, it requires cross-border cooperation.

The CGU points out that, “Migration is not a crisis. It is the governance of migration that has become a crisis”. It also argues that an important way to reduce the pressure of migration is to address the reasons that force people to leave their homelands. These include extreme poverty, wars and other violent conflicts, and the impact of global warming. Both migration and its causes require coordinated global action.

Speaking to the intergovernmental conference that adopted the Global Compact on Migration, Education International Senior Coordinator Dennis Sinyolo said, “Now more than ever before, the international community must come together to deal with the scourge of xenophobia and racism, and to make our societies, workplaces, schools and, and indeed all institutions and services truly inclusive and welcoming to migrants and refugees. After all, there is no race but the human race; not your country and our country, but our planet together.”   

The countries that have confirmed their refusal to sign the pact are: Austria, Australia, Bulgaria, Chile, Croatia, Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Israel, Poland, Slovakia, and the United States. In many countries where leaders have taken the ”risk” of being responsible, they are being attacked by the Extreme Right and nationalist populists based on misinformation and disinformation.

The Secretary-General of the UN, António Guterres, in his opening remarks on 10 December to the gathering in Marrakesh, Morocco to approve the Compact and send it to the UN General Assembly denounced the distortion of the contents and purposes of the Compact. He spoke of several myths, including the idea that the Compact, which is not a treaty,  would undermine national sovereignty.

Guterres explained that, “the Compact only reaffirms that migrants should enjoy human rights, and independently of their status.” He added, “it would be ironic if, on the day we commemorate the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, we would consider that migrants are to be excluded from the scope of the Declaration.”

After arguing that the Compact is a valuable framework for further international cooperation on migration, the Secretary-General concluded, “Let’s work together for a safer, less fearful and more prosperous future both for our own societies and for the world’s migrants. That means for us all.”

Education International General Secretary David Edwards, referring to the CGU statement,  stated, “we join in asking member organisations to urge governments that have rejected the Compact to reconsider their positions, support the Compact, and participate in its follow-up.”

Edwards also argued that, “as education trade unionists, we need to defend the decision of those governments that signed the Compact against campaigns of lies and distortions designed to create fear of and hostility towards migrants for short-term political ends. The generation of hatred of  migrants is the cutting edge of the authoritarian assault on our democracies”.

Education International has developed a new toolkit for educators and education unions who work with migrant and refugee children to make the right to quality education a reality for all. 

Education unions are defending the right to learn and to teach of newcomers. They develop advocacy to promote more inclusive schools in the context of increasingly diverse communities and in reaction to the rise of populist anti-immigration political forces. These strategies and practical actions are now compiled in a new toolkit by Education International (EI). The aim of the publication is to give practitioners concrete, hands-on recommendations and advice that will help them contribute to making education more inclusive and an effective right for all children.  

The toolkit will be presented today in Paris, France, on the occasion of the launch of the new UNESCO Global Education Monitoring Report that in this edition focuses on the right of migrants and refugees to inclusive quality education. 

Sharing best practices 

The publication builds upon activities developed by EI and affiliates, with support from the Open Society Foundations (OSF), in the context of a multiyear project on the right to education of refugees and migrants. These experiences have allowed education unions to develop their work in this domain, inspire each other and explore synergies across borders and with like-minded partners. 

Consisting of an introduction to the topic and three different chapters, the toolkit will allow educators, support personnel and union activists to design a plan to include migrants and refugees, advocate for their rights, and empower and support school communities to address diversity. The toolkit provides a solid knowledge base and concrete tools to:   

  • understand the phenomenon of migration and forced displacement worldwide and the challenges it poses in relation to the education sector, 
  • understand and defend refugees’ and migrants’ rights in education as protected by international, regional and national law, 
  • develop activities in favour of migrants and refugees’ rights at national and local levels and  
  • challenge the predominant negative narrative about migration and refugees. 

The toolkit is part of a wider strategy to help educators be informed and act on the inclusion of refugees into the education system.

Education International welcomed the focus of this year's Global Education Monitoring report "Migration, displacement and education: Building bridges not Walls", showing the importance of addressing issues related to migration, displacement and education in order to achieve the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development’s commitment to leave no one behind. Bringing together the agenda of the New York Declaration for refugees and migrants and that of SDG 4, the report provides a valuable resource to transform commitments into action and hold governments accountable for fulfilling the right to education of migrant and refugee populations.

Taking a broad approach to the definitions of migration and displacement, the report provides an understanding of the phenomenon and its complex interactions with education. By doing so, it makes a strong case for setting up comprehensive and context-relevant policy frameworks and monitoring mechanisms, involving all concerned stakeholders.

As the report rightly recognizes, teachers and education support personnel are on the front line of diverse educational contexts. Considering the many activities developed by education unions worldwide to promote the rights of migrant and refugee teachers and students and build inclusive educational settings, the report asserts that education staff and their organizations should be given a centre stage in the development and implementation of education and migration policies.
The findings of the report show that access to education remains a major concern, especially for displaced populations. The report argues that governments should identify and remove administrative barriers and regulations that directly or indirectly restrict migrants and forcibly displaced persons’ education opportunities. In particular, it criticises the detention of migrant minors and youth, a concern EI has been raising over the years.

The report makes it very clear that treating migrants and refugees differently is wrong and rightly points out the many dimensions of exclusion, including geographical segregation, separation in preparatory courses, early tracking and channelling of migrants into different school types, misdiagnosis of special education needs. It is thus important that educational authorities tackle multifaceted discrimination facing migrants and refugees in education.
Of particular importance is the report’s bold step to bring to the fore the prejudice and discrimination faced by migrant, refugee and other minority teachers. These issues should be confronted and addressed head-on in order to make schools and all education institutions inclusive.

Considering the benefits associated with teacher diversity  in relation to migrant students’ achievement, self-esteem and sense of safety, the recognition of prior qualifications and professional experience of migrant and refugee education staff should be addressed by governments as a matter of priority and in close collaboration with unions. More broadly and beyond bilateral/multilateral qualifications recognition agreements, the development of systematic and individualized assessment of migrants’ educational background and competences, even in absence of documentation, should be promoted.

Available evidence analysed in the report stresses the important role of education with regards to helping migrants and refugees integrate and develop their full potential, but also more broadly, building inclusive societies. Yet, many teachers and education personnel feel ill-equipped to address diversity in their classrooms and schools. It is urgent to increase support for both teaching and administrative staff through pre- and in-service training aiming to develop the skills and approaches they need to accommodate diversity and integrate newcomers, as well as provide them appropriate resources to fulfil their mission (curricula and pedagogical material). In many countries, education unions have developed a valuable experience in terms of transforming schools into welcoming environments, through supporting staff peer-learning and a 360-degree approach to integration. As the report underlines, putting in place the extra support measures needed to meet these challenges requires that governments and donors significantly increase and improve funding channels to schools and education systems enrolling significant numbers of migrants and refugees.