No ‘back to school’ for ‘lost generation’ of refugee children in Mideast: Europe must respond

SIRIUS Statement on Urgent Response for the Education of Refugees

13 million children are being denied their right to an education because of the wars in the Mideast, according to the UN. In fact, 1 in 2 Syrian refugees are actually children (2.2 million). 1 in 4 schools in Syria have closed since the conflict and 52,000 teachers have left their posts. Half of Syria’s 2.2 million refugee children remained out of school in the 2013/14 school year, despite the continued efforts of UN agencies UNICEF and UNHCR. Children remain out of school because of breaks in their school career, lack of resources, lack of documents and the need to work for their family.For example in Turkey, while most school‐age children living in camps are attending school, attendance rates fall to around 1/4 for children in urban areas, where the vast majority of Syrian refugees live without full access to the education system or adequate support to learn Turkish.

War and displacement are creating a lost generation of children in the Mideast. Without the necessary education and psychosocial support, these children will lose the chance to recover in their academic and personal development. The long‐term impact of Syrian children never returning to school has been estimated at 5.4% of Syria’s GDP, or nearly 2 billion euros, according to Save the Children.The UN is calling on donor countries and individuals to fund the 556 million euros needed for education for Syrian children. Yet only 2% of international humanitarian aid is allocated to education.

Unfortunately, refugee children’s obstacles to an education are not confined to war‐torn countries and camps. Since refugees lack legal channels into Europe, families must undertake long and potentially deadly journeys before arriving in a country offering them a real chance for protection and integration. These children on the move usually receive no educational or psychosocial support along the way and limited support upon arrival in many reception centres and school systems in the EU, particularly in new destination countries. When parents choose to go alone and reunite later with their children, demanding requirements and procedures delay their arrival. The OECD concludes that family reunion should happen as soon as possible because its PISA study shows that every extra year spent waiting outside the country has a negative impact on immigrant children’s ability to catch up at school and learn the language.

As the European policy network on migrant education, SIRIUS calls on the EU and its Member States to respond to the specific education needs of refugee children and students in the EU and abroad. Their right to an education is guaranteed under international law, most notably the Geneva Convention, and under EU law through the ‘Common European Asylum System’. SIRIUS’ years of research have found that, apart from a few good practices in specific schools and areas, Europe’s teachers generally lack the training and support to properly serve immigrant pupils or teach about immigration and diversity. Refugee communities are also playing their part to improve the education of their and others’ children, as SIRIUS noted for example in Bulgaria and Hungary.

SIRIUS is recommending more concrete EU actions on refugee education, building on its 2014 comprehensive policy agenda and recommendations from stakeholders such as Europe’s teachers’ unions, and adult educators. The undersigning organisations, aware of huge challenge ahead of us to support these children, encourage the European bodies to:

  1. Create and monitor a long‐term policy on how to best use EU policies and funds to support the education of children and youngsters from refugee families in Europe
  2. Design this policy through an ‘ad hoc’ EU Committee on the education of children and youngsters from refugee families, including the relevant European and international institutions and European NGOs on migration or education
  3. Consult in this design with the European Parliament and with experts and civil society through a 1‐day European conference
  4. Substantially increase funds and set up specific budgets for the education of refugees outside the EU as a part of humanitarian aid and for the education of refugee children and youngsters as a part of asylum and integration support
  5. Increase the number of refugee children and students receiving protection‐sensitive scholarships to study in Europe, including through the EU’s Erasmus Mundus programme
  6. Evaluate the impact of reception and family reunion policies on the educational and psychosocial development of children and then propose solutions at EU level
  7. Remove obstacles and introduce support programmes for refugee teachers and professors to (re)qualify and teach in Europe
  8. Identify and support best practices on the educational and psychosocial support to refugee children and youngsters
  9. Introduce a specific track on refugee education through lifelong learning and adult education, with the support of the European Association for Education of Adults
  10. Coordinate the implementation of these measures and budgets, identify specific contact persons for migrant and refugee education within Member States’ education ministries and the European Commission’s DG Education and Culture

This statement can be signed here.

The German version can be downloaded here.

[vc_toggle title=”Signatories – organisations” open=”false” width=”1/1″ el_position=”first last”]

  • University of Linz
  • Freund statt Fremd
  • ComelSoft
  • Public Policy and Management Institute
  • Dutch National Centre for Mixed Schools
  • Bamberg resident
  • ADOC
  • Leiden Univerity
  • Erasnus University Rotterdam
  • Freund statt fremd e. V.
  • Erasmus University
  • Innovative Community Centres Association
  • Harmanli Refugee Camp Play School
  • Freund statt freund e.V.
  • Multi Kulti Collective
  • Forum for Freedom in Education
  • ESRI
  • University Leiden
  • European Association for the Education of Adults
  • Erasmus University Rotterdam
  • University of Western Macedonia
  • FIBB
  • erasmus university
  • Refugee Project
  • Society for Organisational Learning – Bulgaria
  • Organising Bureau of European School Student Unions – OBESSU
  • Migration Policy Group
  • Global Development Institute, Latvia
  • The National Centre for Multicutural Education (NAFO)
  • Leiden University, faculty of social sciences
  • University of California Berkeley
  • Universiteit Leiden
  • Psychologenpraktijk
  • University of Leiden
  • Freund statt fremd e.V.
  • University of Bremen
  • european forum for migration studies (efms) at the University of Bamberg
  • PPMI Group, UAB
  • Da Vinci College
  • Lifelong Learning Platform/EUROCLIO
  • Leiden University, The Netherlands
  • UCL Institute of Education, University College London
  • Institute of Edication Sciences, University of Pécs
  • Global Vision Circle
  • PPMI
  • International Association for Intercultural Education
  • european forum for migration studies (efms)
  • European Youth Forum
  • Leeds Beckett University
  • Leiden University
  • ENAR – European Network Against Racism aisbl
  • NGO Asfiion NIKE
  • Harmanli refugee camp play school, bulgaria
  • Network of Education Policy Centers
  • Nagore
  • ding
  • Ministry of Education and Science of the Republic of Lithuania
  • SAPI
  • AEGEE-Europe / European Students’ Forum
  • On my own behalf
  • Risbo
  • CIIE – Centro de Investigaçºao e Intervenção Educativas, Universidade do Porto, Portugal


[vc_toggle title=”Signatories – individuals” open=”false” width=”1/1″ el_position=”first last”]

  • George Petrov
  • Gertraut Koehler
  • Raphed Quandt
  • Desislava ZLataova
  • David Garrahy
  • Stefan Huber
  • Marleen Danel
  • Board
  • Marieke Meeuwisse
  • Eliza Samaras
  • Evelien Platje
  • Sabine Severiens
  • Katharina Pittner
  • Julia Grewe
  • Lachezar Afrikanov
  • Rianne Kok
  • Knibbe
  • I. Wijngaarde
  • Aleksandra Kluczka
  • Gillian clasby
  • Andrea Oosterwijk
  • Hannah van Dijk
  • Joke van der Leeuw-Roord
  • Yvette Dijkxhoorn
  • Rianne Feijt MSc
  • Roxette van den Bosch
  • M. Prevoo
  • Georg Bachmann
  • MJ Bakermans-Kranenburg
  • Marinus van IJzendoorn
  • Brigitte Finke
  • Doreen Arnoldus
  • Nikita Schoemaker
  • Eli Pijaca Plavšić
  • Dr Michalis Kakos
  • Bistra Ivanova
  • Nadezhda Hristova
  • R. Cartiere
  • Ulrike Tontsch
  • Alan Kalil
  • Daniel Georgiev
  • Siemen
  • Lois Schenk
  • Thomas Huddleston
  • Petar Petrov
  • Dita Vogel
  • Nektaria Palaiologou
  • Lana Jurko
  • Andrea Spruijt
  • Rob Kickert
  • Barbara Herzog-Punzenberger
  • Diana Dimova
  • Haroldas Brozaitis
  • Doris Lüken-Klaßen
  • Raffaella d’Apolito
  • Alfred Walter
  • Manfred Guenther
  • Keith Welch
  • Khadija
  • Nicoletta Charalambidou, Vice-Chair
  • Toin Duijx
  • Daniel Mayerhoffer
  • Eke Krijnen
  • Dr. Merike Darmody
  • Liesma Ose
  • Lisanne Marijs
  • Claudia Koehler
  • Dr. M.J. van Dijken
  • M.C. Dekker
  • dr. Anneke JG Vinke
  • Sadie Clasby
  • Gabriela Koppenol-Gonzalez
  • Helena C. Araújo (Director)
  • Rimantas Dumčius
  • Lonneke de Meijer
  • Hilke Kaspar
  • Leslie Bash
  • Renata Weber
  • Tobias Zenk
  • Lenneke Alink
  • Hanne
  • Renee Dijkhuis
  • Sigrun Aamodt
  • Adi Yordanova
  • Sheila van Berkel
  • Gisela Hirschmann-Raithel
  • Josefine Karlsson
  • M.S. van Vliet
  • Regina Ebner
  • Linda Haunschild
  • Sahetapy
  • Abdel Amine
  • Linda van Leijenhorst
  • Else de Vries
  • Patrick Nitzsche
  • Ferenc Arató
  • Tomislav Tudjman
  • Sabrina Alhanachi
  • Hanna Siarova
  • Guido Walraven
  • Alexander Schulz
  • Zlatina Toleva
  • Ona Čepulėnienė



European Stakeholder Meetings: Developing an Agenda for Migrant Education in Europe

MPGSince September 2013, Migration Policy Group has held a number of stakeholder meetings with European civil society stakeholders in order to develop a common vision on migrant education amongst migration and education stakeholders. The aim of these meetings was, in particular, to develop policy recommendations in order to consolidate a migrant education agenda on the basis of the consensus of European civil society stakeholders on the following topics:

Once the policy recommendations had been developed and agreed with the SIRIUS steering committee, another consultation took place with the stakeholders in order to agree on a final version of  the agenda and recommendations on migrant education.

Thanks to the input of numerous EU stakeholders as well as a variety of SIRIUS partners, a A Clear Agenda for Migrant Education in Europe has been developed, together with the recommendations on the above mentioned topics. Many of those who contributed to the meetings and the agenda also endorsed the document with the following messages:

  • European Association for the Education of Adults (EAEA): EAEA is happy to endorse the recommendations coming from the SIRIUS network as they complement our work in adult education. Access to learning for migrants must be a priority from early childhood to adulthood.
  • European Association of History Educators (EUROCLIO): Supports the SIRIUS Agenda for Migrant Education in Europe and in particular its call for more inclusive educational systems and approaches, in line with EUROCLIO’s principle of high quality history, heritage and citizenship education that embraces cultural, religious and linguistic diversity as a way to foster social cohesion and contribute to intercultural dialogue.
  • European Network against Racism (ENAR): Endorses the document A Clear Agenda for Migrant Education in Europe along with its Recommendation to Educational Authorities in Member States.
  • European Network of Migrant Women (ENoMW): If we want to live in a just society, education is the place to start with. If we want migrant girls to be a part to that society, education is a real place to support them.
  • European Network to Promote Linguistic Diversity (NPLD): Fully supports the SIRIUS Network recommendations and works to ensure an equitable approach to multilingualism, including state languages but also regional, minority, lesser-used as well as migrant languages.
  • European Parents Association (EPA): Parents’ associations all over Europe are aware of the challenges migrant families are facing when trying to adjust to a new country and a new education system. The European Parents’ Association finds it very important that all children are supported in their education in a way that serves their best interest and at the same time parents are also given all necessary state support as stated in Article 18 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.
  • European Students’ Union (ESU): ESU was founded on the idea that every student should be respected and represented. We view these recommendations and their focus on a learner-centred approach as integral in achieving this and allowing all students to prosper within the education system regardless of socio-economic background. For this reason we fully endorse the document.
  • European Youth Forum (EYF): EYF demands quality and inclusive education for everyone. The EU rate of early school leaving being almost double for foreign-born learners points to difficulties and barriers that EU leaders must take urgent action to tackle. These recommendations, produced after careful study by the SIRIUS group, show what action is essential for the inclusion of young migrants and those with a migrant-background and we urge EU leaders to act to implement them.
  • International Migration, Integration and Social Cohesion Research Network (IMISCOE): The Clear Agenda for Migrant Education in Europe along with its Recommendation to Educational Authorities in Member States came into being with the support of IMISCOE.
  • Migration Policy Group (MPG): Through SIRIUS, education stakeholders, migration stakeholders, and immigrant-run initiatives have finally come together at both national and EU level to create and endorse a common agenda for an inclusive and equitable education for immigrant learners. MPG hopes that these and other actors will take up and implement these recommendations at national and EU level, leading to greater mainstreaming, better coordination and more effective policies on the ground.
  • Migration Policy Institute (MPI) Europe: Policies that support migrant students in their educational trajectories, from early childhood through secondary, vocational and adult education, are essential to improve outcomes and successful integration efforts for migrant children and their families. MPI Europe endorses the SIRIUS policy network’s recommendations on improving education for children and young people with a migrant background and their goal of promoting access to high quality learning opportunities for all.
  • Network of Education Policy Centers (NEPC): Endorses SIRIUS in its work to provide equal educational opportunities for all in European Union. NEPC believes that education policy at all levels of education should be driven by the principles of social justice and the need to remove all forms of inequity from our educational systems which are crucial for creating societies based on values that EU promotes. The promotion of equal opportunities is not just the responsibility of policy makers but all the stakeholders in education who should strive for continuous improvements in this aspect.
  • Open Society FoundationsEndorses the call from the SIRIUS network for a clear agenda to affirm and support the equal right to education in inclusive settings for all European residents, including children and youth with migrant backgrounds. We welcome the recommendations put forward here by SIRIUS to strengthen education inclusion and equity, they are important for improving the quality of education overall and crucial for building a stronger and fairer Europe. We endorse the agenda for this conference and urge Member States to incorporate these principles in their education policies.
  • Organising Bureau of European School Student Unions (OBESSU): OBESSU strongly believes that each learner has the right to high-quality education, regardless of socio-economic background. These recommendations, focusing on one particular aspect of social inclusion in education, are completely in line with OBESSU’s views on the topic and we therefore fully support it.
  • Platform for International Cooperation on Undocumented Migrants (PICUM): As well as the challenges that all migrant children may face to enjoying their education and realising their full potential, undocumented children face specific discrimination in European education systems due to their migration or residence status. Policy makers and service providers should ensure inclusion of undocumented children in measures to improve educational outcomes for migrant children, and address the specific status-related barriers, to enable all children to have access to high-quality education at all levels, without discrimination.

A Clear Agenda for Migrant Education in Europe

The European Union has underlined the importance of education, notably in its most recent 10 year EU growth and competitiveness strategy, EU 2020. The strategy sets ambitious targets for the improvement of educational results: reducing school drop-out rates to below 10%, and ensuring that at least 40% of 30-34 year olds have completed tertiary education by 2020. This goal was developed from and is supported by the Education and Training Strategy (ET 2020), which is based on strategic objectives that include promoting equity, social cohesion, and active citizenship.

ClassroomWhile European countries have well-established education systems, there exists a strong inequality of access to schooling and quality of education for socio-economically disadvantaged communities across the continent, in particular for migrants coming from a low socio-economic background. According to EU data, 8.3 million young people in the EU Member States (3.1 million under 15 and 5.2 million aged 15-24) were born abroad, while the number of second-generation young adults (aged 15-34) are estimated at over four million. The youth unemployment and young people “Not in Education, Employment or Training” (NEET) rates are significantly higher for first and second generation migrants than for their native peers in most EU Member States. The EU Migrant Integration Indicators indicate that the share of early school leaving among foreign-born learners in the EU is nearly twice as high as among the total population. Eurostat’s 2011 statistical report on Migrants in Europe also shows that the shares are higher for second-generation youth with migrant parents. Clearly, young people with migrant background have a number of critical and specific education needs that are still not met and may not be compensated for through current education policies or in the classroom. Updating the agenda on the education of migrant learners may help EU Member States to reach their common targets for a smart and inclusive economic growth and against youth unemployment. For example, the EU’s 2013 report on Using EU Indicators of Immigrant Integration estimates that closing the gap in early school leaving rates for foreign-born learners would bring the EU 30% closer to its headline target of reducing this rate to 10% and prevent half a million young people from leaving school early, which accounts for 8.7% of all early school leavers in the EU.

Agenda and supporting Recommendations

petit 3x1,85The SIRIUS Network on the education of children and young people with a migrant background has spent the past three years debating policy priorities for migrant education and inclusion. EU and national stakeholder meetings, conferences, peer reviews and site visits have contributed to our knowledge on how education systems must change to provide all learners with the skills and knowledge to perform to their potential in today’s diverse societies.

Summarising the results of these activities, the Agenda for Migrant Education in Europe and the supporting recommendations for EU institutions and for Member State authorities present a vision on migrant education and a set of policy recommendations that aim to promote a more inclusive education system and lead to a decrease in the achievement gap between pupils with and without a migrant background. Migration Policy Group, as SIRIUS’ Communications Officer, developed a first draft based on the outcomes of the EU stakeholder meetings that have taken place since September 2013, as well as recommendations from numerous SIRIUS publications. This text was improved upon through a consultative process with the SIRIUS Steering Committee, SIRIUS’ national and collaborative partners, as well as EU stakeholders from August to October 2014.

The final version of this document is well supported by a wide variety of actors who aim to help raise and spread a strong message for a more inclusive education policy including for immigrant learners.


sirius agendaThe document includes:

  • A Clear Agenda for Migrant Education in Europe
  • Supporting document: Recommendations on improving education for children and young people with a migrant (for both Educational Authorities in Member States and EU Institutions)
  • Endorsements for the Agenda and Recommendations on Migrant Education
  • Bibliography

Read press release

See video summarising the Agenda

SIRIUS Newsletter No.12 – June 2014


The SIRIUS Policy Network has published the June edition of its Newsletter. This is a unique source for monthly updates on SIRIUS,  migrant education news, events, good practices, and policy developments.

The SIRIUS Event Reports and Policy Outreach summaries are the highlight of this month’s SIRIUS news.

If you would like to read the Newsletter, please click here.

To read previous Newsletters, please click here.

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