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



SIRIUS Policy Briefs: Recommendations for successful policies on migrant education


While many countries in Europe have high-quality, well-established education systems, socio-economically disadvantaged communities across the continent suffer from inequality of access and lower-quality education. Children from these groups, including children with a migrant background—those who are immigrants themselves or have immigrant parents—tend to underperform in the classroom compared with their native peers. Children from a migrant background (defined here as from countries outside the European Union) have particular educational needs that mainstream education policy does not always meet, including overcoming language barriers and discrimination. Recognizing the importance of education in allowing countries to realize their potential, the European Commission has developed a series of goals in the form of the Education and Training Strategy (ET 2020) to help Member States reduce school dropout and increase rates of tertiary education completion.

In 2011, the European Commission launched the SIRIUS Policy Network on the Education of Children and Youngsters with a Migrant Background to study and propose ways that EU countries can address the needs of disadvantaged groups while working to meet the goals outlined in ET 2020. The network facilitates the ability of experts, policymakers, and practitioners to gather and share policy ideas and practices to improve outcomes for these children.

This series of policy papers produced by experts from within the SIRIUS Network in collaboration with MPI Europe focuses on how policies at the EU level and within individual Member States can better support the education outcomes of young people with a migrant background.

Enhancing EU Education Policy: Building a Framework to Help Young People of Migrant Background Succeed


This policy brief sketches how children with a migrant background face the most urgent needs in Europe’s education systems. The overall rate for early school leaving is 33 percent for third-country nationals—more than double the overall 14.1 percent rate within the European Union, for example. Rates of youth unemployment and young people “Not in Education, Employment or Training” (NEET) are significantly higher for first- and second-generation migrants than for their native peers in most EU Member States. The brief examines a number of proposals for ways that local, national, and regional institutions can help educational systems become more community-centered, systemic, and inclusive in order to close the school achievement gap between native and immigrant students.

The thematically focused SIRIUS Newsletter on different aspects of enhancing education policy is available here.

Mentoring: What Can Support Projects Achieve That Schools Cannot?


This policy brief explores how European policymakers can design mentoring and other educational support projects to be an integral part of the educational landscape, and explains why it is important for them to do so. It highlights examples of successful mentoring experiences that focus on cultivating the hidden talents and potential of children of immigrants, countering prevailing narratives about these children possessing an educational deficit and needing to “catch up” in school. Finally, the brief summarizes current research on the benefits of mentoring and offers recommendations for program development and for policymakers at the EU level.

The thematically focused SIRIUS Newsletter on different aspects of mentoring is available here.

Developing School Capacity for Diversity


This policy brief uses the concept of professional capacity to frame SIRIUS’s recommendations regarding school quality. It identifies four key areas for improvement: language diversity, the learning environment, social psychology and acculturation, and community connections. To develop expertise in these areas, the brief outlines three strategies for policymakers:

– build professional learning communities that focus on diversity;

– build networks of expertise on diversity;

                           – and develop teacher training programs dedicated to diversity.

The thematically focused SIRIUS Newsletter on different aspects of capacity building is available here.

Language Support for Youth with a Migrant Background: Policies that Effectively Promote Inclusion


This policy brief provides key points and good practice examples on what comprehensive language support might look like. Recent  studies have identified a number of tools and approaches that can provide effective language support for migrant children, including adequate initial assessment of language skills, language induction programmes that ensure a smooth transition into mainstream classrooms, ongoing language support, training for teachers of all subjects, and valuing students’ mother tongue. Despite these suggestions, there is no blueprint for what ideal language support might look like, and many European Union (EU) Member States are facing gaps in implementation of best practices.

The thematically focused SIRIUS Newsletter on different aspects of language support is available here.

Migrant education and community inclusion

Migrant education and community inclusion

This policy brief reviews current measures to promote the integration of migrant students around Europe, specifically those policies and government-backed projects that include the family and community as an integral part of the educational process. The brief will focus on seven examples of good practices that might serve as an inspiration for education policies across the continent. 

The thematically focused SIRIUS Policy Brief is available here.

Reducing the risk that youth with a migrant background in Europe will leave school early

 Reducing the risk that youth with a migrant background in Europe will leave school early

Even as the European Union (EU) in general moves closer to the EU 2020 target of reducing early school leaving (ESL) to a 10 percent threshold, wide disparities remain. Varied rates of progress can be seen not only across Member States and media, but also among social and ethnic groups within the 28 Member States. With the exception of the United Kingdom and Portugal, youth with an immigrant background are over represented among those who leave school early. Migrant youth therefore remain a target group for EU policy recommendations regarding strategies, policies, and measures to reduce ESL.

In this policy brief the authors focus on empirical findings, theoretical insights, and promising measures that may inform further policy action addressing the disproportionately high level of ESL among youth with a migrant background. The following three questions structure the content of this brief:

1/ What can be learned from empirical research on ESL among migrant youth?

2/ What features of national and regional education system can prevent ESL among migrant youth?

3/ What specific settings are promising for the implementation of measures to prevent, intervene in, and compensate for ESL among migrant youth? 

The thematically focused SIRIUS Policy Brief is available here

Refugee children in education in Europe. How to prevent a lost generation?

Refugee children in education in Europe - how to prevent a lost generation

In the policy brief we will show what refugee children need to be successful in school. We identified six major school arrangements that affect school success.

  1. Free of costs pre-school places for the youngest refugee children to start to learn the second language early.
  2. Sustained second language programs should be available from pre-school until upper-secondary school to accommodate children from all age groups. Teachers should get up-to-date second language teacher training and especially developed materials and methods.
  3. For 16+ and 18+ students: Education should be available also after compulsory schooling (for instance adult education) if we want to prevent a lost generation. Stopping or only providing limited access to education beyond compulsory schooling is highly disruptive.
  4. Short introductory classes, after which students are immersed into regular classes. Being placed for one or two years in welcome classes or international classes is detrimental to school success. Introductory classes should be connected to all secondary school levels (not just vocational education).
  5. Additional support teachers should be assigned to follow up on children’s needs.
  6. Direct access to English Master programs for students holding a BA, comparable to international students.

An integrated approach is key, where these arrangements are linked together (See also the recommendations of European Commission Report: Study for educational support for newly arrived migrants, PPMI 2013). For example, short introductory programs can only be successful when combined with sustained second language support.

This policy brief is mainly focused on education measures, however other policies and factors that have an impact on the education chances and outcomes of refugee children and youngsters.

The thematically focused SIRIUS Policy Brief is available here.

School Leaders – Advocates for Refugee and Migrants Students

School leaders

SIRIUS Policy Network on Migrant Education has since 2012 debated and researched policy priorities for migrant education and inclusion. Although its research did not specifically zoom in on the roles and responsibilities of the School leaders in this regards, the SIRIUS Agenda for Migrant Education in Europe (2014) outlines specific recommendations regarding the school leaders. The further exploration within the network and its experts and consultation with relevant other stakeholders from European Policy Network on School Leadership (EPNoSL) shines more light on the key roles school leaders have in implementing migrant and refugee education policy. With this Policy Brief SIRIUS attempts to highlight the school leaders as advocates for refugee and migrant students, agents of inclusiveness and social justice and focus on the role of school leaders in the implementation of refugee and migrant education policy as well as provide policy makers with recommendations on how to best support school leaders.

The thematically focused SIRIUS Policy Brief is available here.



Regional Policy Paper

Migrant Education Opportunities in the Baltic States: strong dependence on the level of school preparedness

Baltic states policy paperThe purpose of this policy paper is to explore the national policy measures related to pupils with a migrant background in the three Baltic States: Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. The paper aims to identify similarities of policy responses to specific educational needs related to migrant background and point out the differences in approaches, bringing forward the examples of successful practice. The paper serves as an overview of the topic in the Baltic region, which aims to enable mutual learning and inspire the development of most effective strategies in order to shape education policies towards greater inclusiveness to respond to the diverse needs of the learners.