Migrants and Refugees in Education

Around the world, the number of school-age migrants and refugees has increased by 26% since 2000. This could cram 500,000 classrooms. Children who are refugees or migrants must have access to flexible alternative educational options in addition to formal education. Moving toward flexible non-formal education is necessary so that each child can learn and pursue their future. A crucial component of crisis and conflict prevention and response is inclusive education for migrants and refugees.

The European Union (EU) Member States are under more pressure to make plans for successfully integrating these recent newcomers into society because of the recent sharp increase in the number of refugees and asylum seekers between 2014 and 2016. This involves fairly immediate necessities like housing, food, and language lessons, but it also raises concerns about the medium- and long-term outlooks for social and structural participation. Education is one of the most crucial areas of structural integration because of the high proportion of children, adolescents, and young adults among refugees and asylum seekers, (a) the universal human right of access to education for children and adolescents, (b) the importance of education in overcoming socioeconomic disadvantages in European societies and (c) the unique social and emotional needs of young asylum seekers and refugees (Fazel, Reed, Panter-Brick, & Stein, 2012).

A high-quality education promotes innovation, economic progress, and social inclusiveness. Although the cost of migrant students’ education may be higher than that of non-migrant students in the near term, it is a long-term societal investment (Bonin, 2017). This is true both from the standpoint of the EU’s receiving nations and from the standpoint of fostering peace and stability in the refugee’s home countries. The education and skills that refugees gain in EU nations are tools they can use for transformation processes in the concerned countries, taking into account that some refugees will eventually return to their countries of origin.


Since many years ago, the majority of EU countries have struggled to offer sufficient possibilities for integrating recently arrived refugees and immigrants into the mainstream school system. However, since 2015, as more refugees and asylum seekers have arrived, these difficulties have gotten worse, forcing systems to adopt extensive ad-hoc measures and concepts for the educational integration of refugee children in accordance with their unique financial and structural possibilities, institutional logics, and prior experiences (Koehler et al., 2018).

Despite the fact that all children have a fundamental right to a basic education under international and regional human rights law, including EU law, in reality, the kind, caliber, and length of schooling provided to migrants, refugees, and asylum-seeking children depends more on where they are in the immigration/asylum process than it does on their educational needs.


Children of immigrants who were born in the EU often have the right to enroll in educational, apprenticeship, and vocational programs offered by their host state under the same terms as citizens, including access to social benefits tied to education.


Beneficiaries of international protection (refugees under the 1951 Convention and holders of subsidiary protection), those with temporary protection, long-term residence status, and those reunited with family members legally residing in the EU are also entitled to access education under the same conditions as nationals, but they are not automatically entitled to associated benefits, which may limit their ability to access.

Although formal education may be offered at accommodation centers, minors seeking asylum are legally allowed to access the host State’s educational system on the same terms as those that apply to nationals. Although in practice it may take longer and alternative classes in the accommodation centers typically do not teach the full curriculum or meet the same teaching standards as local schools, education authorities in EU Member States shall not postpone access to education for longer than three months from the date on which children (or their parents) have filed their asylum claim. Children whose applications for asylum have been denied still have access to fundamental education during the time allotted for voluntary departure and at times when the removal has been delayed.

Children from migrant families who are living irregularly (such as those who haven’t asked for asylum or don’t have the proper documentation) are most likely to skip school. Only seven EU members—Belgium, Bulgaria, Finland, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain, and Sweden—have officially recognized that undocumented immigrant children have a right to a fundamentally sound formal education, whereas Hungary, Latvia, and Lithuania have openly limited or disallowed that right.


The majority of member states implicitly grant every kid in the nation the right to an education, even children who are residing irregularly. However, because this right is not consistently supported or guaranteed, access may be restricted or discouraged by regional procedural rules. For instance, schools may be required to notify immigration officials when a family lacks proper documentation, which may discourage such families from enrolling their children in school.


Additionally, schools may require documentation for previous education, national identification documents, birth certificates, or residency verification before allowing students to enroll.


As they frequently do not fall under the umbrella of obligatory education as defined by national law, access to upper-secondary school, early childhood education (ECE), vocational training, further education, and higher education may also be severely restricted.

To conclude, some of the challenges in accessing education are:
  1. Legal barriers including lack of clear provisions on compulsory education for children in reception centres, children without residence permits or international protection status, or legal provisions for compulsory education.
  2. Administrative challenges including inflexible registration deadlines, residence and other personal documentation requirements, extended stay in first reception centres where school enrolment is not compulsory.
  3. Lack of catch-up classes, insufficient funding, insufficient guidance and training for teachers and education professionals working with refugee and migrant students, including those who require psychosocial support and language learning, are just a few examples of the inadequate human and financial resources of the education authorities.
  4. As refugee and immigrant children are perceived as different, stereotypes and judgment based on perceptions at school may result in prejudice, bullying, and discrimination, and instructors are not always well-equipped to encourage multiculturalism and openness to variety.
Ajla Aljović, BRAVO
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