european students’ union

European Students call for pan-European and proactive solidarity with refugees

December 8, 2015

All students shall be welcome in the European Education Institutions

We, the European Students’ Union (ESU), representing all the students in Europe, call upon all the students, teaching and administrative staff, universities and other education institutions, as well as authorities, policy makers and citizens in general, to welcome and provide assistance and support to students and others who are displaced persons, such as refugees, asylum seekers or persons in a refugee-like situation that might want to pursue their education. We do also remind all stakeholders to ensure fair access to education for all the refugees, and specially to those who did not have the opportunity to enrol so far or those who want to continue their education. Moreover, there is also a need to offer fair opportunities to those academics who are in similar situations.

ESU strongly believes that the academic communities should show solidarity with the approximately 20 million refugees worldwide, over 50% of which are under 18 years old. ESU and its members are committed to join efforts to support and assist them.  In the darkest moments of the European history, international solidarity was essential for the reconstruction and development of the continent. Now, ESU calls again for international solidarity with the increasing number of refugees. It is our responsibility to host those who were forced to flee their homes and to give them an opportunity to live in dignity, but also to support peace consolidation efforts in their countries of origin, in order to allow them to return safely if they wish to do so in the future.

Education is a human right. Any person with a desire to learn should be afforded the opportunity to do so. Therefore, we should open our education institutions to anyone fleeing situation of conflict, terror, hunger and violation of human rights. The higher education initiatives regarding persons who have fled their homes of both the European Union and the Council of Europe are key for an effective and successful European response. Nevertheless, Member States should also demonstrate solidarity in other policy areas. Moreover, we should cooperate at global level in order to strengthen the global higher education community. Scholars are an important resource for the reconstruction of the countries and societies that are now in a situation of conflict.

ESU calls upon all public authorities, international organizations, and other relevant organizations and institutions at all levels to offer funding support for persons who had to flee their homes in the form of scholarships, grants or fellowships. We believe it is key to make available support measures for education institutions, student unions and civil society organisations that are assisting or providing support to persons who had to flee their homes, or wish to do so.

ESU condemns the numerous racist attacks on displaced people, growing on the base of intolerance and fear. We emphasize that education has to be a tool against the narrow mindedness that leads to racial discrimination.

Although this humanitarian crisis has worsened worldwide, and in Europe, we should not forget that there are already existing tools and initiatives which have proven to work and which we should make use of. We should make use of the already existing tools as well as join forces among all different initiatives and organisations to provide an effective answer to the diverse needs of displaced persons, such as refugees, asylum seekers or persons in a refugee-like situation.

Appendix: Concrete actions that should be taken

Welcoming refugees
Education institutions have a crucial role to play in welcoming refugees and helping them to better integrate in the local communities. We need to make sure that all support mechanisms are also made available for non-recognised refugees, such as asylum seekers, persons in a refugee-like situation or other displaced persons. It is essential to reduce red tape and speed up the process for granting the refugee status and issuing the residence permit.

In order to fully achieve the inclusion of refugees, it is necessary to take a decided stance in favour of dialogue and cooperation between the different stakeholders both governmental and from the civil society. For this reason, we propose the creation of a coordination working group, at the European level, with all relevant organizations and institutions related to higher education and those that can cooperate in the welcoming and inclusion process of the refugees. This group will have the aim to follow the implementation of the different initiatives and the process and to guarantee the right to education.  We should also encourage the implementation of this structure from national and local perspectives and promote the coordination between the different levels involved.

Educational institutions with a help from government, should provide free language trainings as an essential aspect of integration. They should offer courses focusing on social integration of the refugees, supporting them in getting to know the community, history, culture and most urgently the legal system, in order to empower the individual refugee.

Students who had to experience displacement are a particularly vulnerable group and they need targeted support actions. Displaced persons, such as refugees, asylum seekers or persons in a refugee-like situation must be given the same status as home students, and be eligible for the same student support systems to cover the costs of tuition and living costs. Student refugees should have equal access and rights to housing facilities, psychological and social support as the domestic students. The education institutions should adapt those services and make them accessible. Moreover, it is essential to ensure the access for all students to health care services. Therefore, the education institutions should adapt those services and make them accessible. Moreover, it is essential to ensure the access of all students to health care services.

Careful attention should be paid to fostering inclusion in society and in academia and to the protection of persons from vulnerable groups, who have had to flee, willing to study and to avoid any kind of discrimination due to political orientation, religion, ethnic or cultural origin, sexual orientation or social standing.

Education is a human right!
Education is the first and most important tool to achieve freedom: it is the most important tool that leads to freedom of thought, self-consciousness and awareness of your surroundings; it is also the only tool that, once achieved, can never be taken away from anyone.

All displaced persons, refugees, asylum seekers or persons in a refugee-like situation, as human beings, have the right to education, and therefore the hosting communities should ensure their access to education and adequate support mechanisms to successfully complete it. This applies to all education levels, from primary education to higher education.

ESU reminds that education, as a human right, should not be denied to anyone for any reason, especially not because of the lack of recognition of refugee status. Governments and education institutions should remove any kind of limitation for being able to enter higher education or to be eligible for financial support or other benefits.

Persons who have had to flee studying or willing to study need extra support to ensure they have equal and fair access to education, as well as successful retention. Higher education institutions should develop tailor-made foundation and bridging courses While specific programmes, taught in the refugees’ mother tongue, could be useful at the beginning, this might lead to their segregation in the long run. Thus, it is important to always keep in mind that the medium and long term goal is full integration of the refugees.

Higher education institutions should provide guidance and information about how to have access to education, recognition mechanisms, support services and opportunities available for refugees.

ESU asks for the implementation of pedagogical training for current teaching staff in order for them to gain knowledge about  how to work with a multicultural group of students, including students with refugee background and in risk of exclusion. Furthermore, higher education institutions should provide additional training to the administrative staff who will assist student refugees with different procedures or support services.

Fair recognition of qualifications
Refugees who have prior education, both formal and non-formal, even if not documented, should have a right to have their qualifications assessed and recognised in a fair and transparent manner.

National authorities and higher education institutions should ensure flexible conditions, procedures and processes for the recognition of degrees and diplomas, periods of study and prior learning of refugees, in line with the Lisbon Recognition Convention . ESU believes that to guarantee an accessible procedure it has to be free of charge, and without imposing any additional bureaucratic burdens. Ensuring the enrolment or pursuit of academic degrees is essential for the integration of all displaced persons, including refugees, asylum seekers and persons in a refugee-like situation. Moreover, applicants should be allowed to have their qualifications recognised, regardless of their formal status in the country.

ESU welcomes the initiatives of the European Commission and the Council of Europe on trying to overcome procedural obstacles for recognition and supporting the ENIC-NARIC centres in the European countries. Moreover, ESU calls upon all the recognition authorities and higher education institutions to revise their legal framework and regulations according to Lisbon Recognition Convention, and to take actions towards simplifying and speeding up the recognition process in a coordinated way.

We encourage the ENIC-NARIC centres to share the good practices, knowledge and data for improving the process of recognising qualifications of the refugees. We also invite all bodies in charge of recognition procedures to make use of the European Area of Recognition eManual  and Guidelines for the recognition of refugee’s qualifications  from the Council of Europe.

Support for the academics
ESU invites and encourages European higher education institutions to open up to refugee scholars and offer teaching and researching fellowships or to host them during temporary visits as professors, researchers, lecturers, visiting scholars, post-docs, or graduate fellows.

We believe that scholar refugees can be a source of inspiration to the host institutions and help its students and fellow academics to gain insight and understanding of the societies and cultures they come from, as well as help to preserve the intellectual capital of those societies under threat. Besides, this opportunity would mean that those scholars can continue to make advances in their fields, strengthen the knowledge base and contribute to the research and teaching of the host institutions.

Public authorities and higher education institutions should waive the restrictions for staff recruitment, academic appointments or temporary visits which could be an obstacle to hosting scholar refugees. Scholar refugees should be able to equally benefit from staff development training courses and other opportunities for professional development as rest of the staff.

We encourage higher education institutions and partners to make use of the handbook developed by Scholars’ at Risk Network on How to Host a scholar .

Students leading by example
ESU is convinced that students and student unions can play a very important role in welcoming refugees and assisting them through different actions and initiatives. We want to encourage student unions, other student organisations, and the students themselves to take action and be agents for change within their institutions and communities.

ESU encourages student unions to provide guidance and information to student refugees on access, recognition procedures, grants, housing, health care, student support services, extra curricular activities, etc. It is crucial that we, as students, raise awareness about the situation and needs of persons who have had to flee willing to study, as well as advocate towards the institutions’ leadership and public authorities for taking actions in all the required areas.

We encourage all student unions to promote peer learning activities, non-formal education courses and tandem courses of languages and to create and facilitate cultural exchange events such as cultural and science evenings. Every single step is important in helping the integration.

Many student unions already organise at the local level solidarity exchange of books and other study-related items between students. We strongly encourage this practice, combined with the already on-going fight for inclusiveness that starts with providing very basic materials to those in need.

ESU invites all student unions in Europe to join forces, to collaborate with higher education institutions, public authorities and other civil society organisations in helping out all persons studying or willing to study that have been forced to flee their homes and seek in our countries a safe place for self development and personal growth.
References

[1] http://www.coe.int/es/web/conventions/full-list/-/conventions/rms/090000168007f2c7

[2] http://eurorecognition.eu/emanual/Chapter%2012/default.aspx

[3] http://www.aic.lv/ace/WP/Refugees/guid_ref.htm

[4] http://www.scholarsatrisk.nyu.edu/Documents/SAR_How_to_Host_Handbook.pdf

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