Introduction Top

At its core, EI is guided by the principles of human rights, democracy and social justice. EI recognises that education is a human right and a public good in its own right, enabling people at all stages in their lives to achieve their maximum potential. EI has a natural role to play in promoting the right to learn and right to teach for refugees and migrants.

The growing refugee and displaced persons crisis around the world stuns in its magnitude. According to the statistical data compiled by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) half of displaced persons (refugees and migrants) are under 18 years old.  Displaced children are disproportionately at risk of forced labour, trafficking, child marriage, sexual exploitation, recruitment in armed conflict and violence.

This displacement can last for months, years or a lifetime, resulting in a whole generation of children sometimes denied access to the most basic levels of education. The UNHCR estimates that among the displaced youth in medium- to longer-term settlements, only half attend primary school and a quarter secondary school. 

For refugees and displaced persons who are newly arrived and require that basic needs be met, these needs can include non-formal education, counselling, initial language and activities that are enjoyable and practical. In areas where refugees will be staying for longer periods of time, their human rights include quality education, education provided by public authorities and available freely to all, inclusive education and equality in education and society, and high professional status for teachers.

Displaced persons and refugees also include teachers, researchers or education support personnel who can participate in the delivery of the right to education in transit and destination countries. EI also promotes and protects the rights of these teachers, researchers and education employees. If and when such educators are requested to participate in the delivery of education or seek employment in their transit or destination country, their rights should be known and respected.

Policies Top

EI and the Open Society Foundations (OSF) launch a refugee education programme Top

In order to provide a qualitative education response to refugees coming to Europe, EI and OSF have partnered to support local initiatives of education unions.

Through its funding, OSF, an organisation with a mission to build tolerant and democratic societies, has looked to EI to turn its vision into reality for refugees fleeing inhospitable living situations.

Under the umbrella of “Realising the right to education of refugees”, EI has launched two projects to address the right to quality education of refugees at the national and local levels.

The first aims to “Mobilise School Communities for the Rights of Refugee Children and Teachers” and looks to bring about concrete change in the classroom and the surrounding community. Fourteen local projects are being developed by EI affiliates in different European countries, among which Belgium, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Poland, Spain and the UK. Each local project is modelled around the needs and circumstances of the school, its students and teachers. Various initiatives, such as workshops to enhance teacher competences and integration activities aimed at bringing newcomers and local communities together, will help break down barriers inside the classroom and out.

The second project entitled “Teacher Unions activate for education quality and equity for refugees through schools”, addresses the role which unions can and do play in providing teachers with the training and tools to ensure quality education to refugee children. This project involves a global mapping of the initiatives that unions have been developing over the past few years, to support their members and promote the rights of migrants and refugees in their national and local contexts. In addition to the surveying of EI affiliates, case studies have been undertaken in Italy, Spain, Poland and Sweden in order to provide an in-depth analysis of how unions and education ministries are handling the arrival of refugees in schools. Top

In order to disseminate the outcomes of both projects and foster peer-learning and information-sharing amongst EI affiliates and partners, a new online platform has been created:

The portal includes an online toolkit showcasing best practices from around the world regarding the promotion of quality education for migrant and refugee children: advocacy activities, teacher training and guidance, teaching resources, campaigns, publications, etc. It provides information concerning teacher migration and mobility worldwide, based on the EI 2014 study and global survey “Getting Teacher Migration and Mobility Right” and compiles best practices and key recommendations for unions willing to organize and improve the rights of migrant teachers. It also offers valuable information to migrant and mobile teachers concerning their rights and unions’ contacts in their host/home country, as well as first hand testimonies of teachers working in another country.

If you want to subscribe to the Education4refugees newsletter to receive information concerning EI and affiliates’ activities in favor of migrants’ and refugees’ rights or share your own initiatives and material, please send an email torefugee[at] and follow us on Twitter (@ed4refugees).

Education Unions Initiatives Top

Education unions have a special role to play in safeguarding the human and trade union rights of persons, whatever their status, particularly those who are teachers, education support personnel, researchers, students or education unionists. EI and education unions are also prominent advocating for resources, training (also in service), adapted curricula and pedagogy, academic freedom to evaluate the refugee children abilities and learning skills, whole child and student centered approaches, support staff, etc.

Key activities include:

  • analysing policies and practices of educational authorities in destination countries;
  • advocating for policies and practices to deliver the right to education and the rights of educational personnel; and
  • strategising with teachers and school-based personnel – including those from the refugee or migrant communities – to fulfil the right to education, including school-wide human rights-based approaches.

Below are listed a few examples of unions’ initiatives in this domain. Other examples can be found at

“Building bridges, not walls” (USA/Mexico)

The American Federation of Teachers (AFT) and Mexico’s Sindicato Nacional de Trabajadores de la Educación (SNTE) are working to build cross-border initiatives to promote quality education. A first meeting involved union representatives from four American and six Mexican border States on 25-27 October 2015 in Houston, Texas. AFT and SNTE agreed to explore ways to complement their existing work. Concretely they will promote a guide detailing the human and education rights of migrant students and their families and the rights of teachers. They will also build a robust online platform tool for professional development and certification in language skills.

RadioLabour interview with the President of the Texas AFT, Louis Malfaro.

"Education cannot wait" (Germany)

The German education union GEW produced a package of recommendations under the title ‘Education cannot wait’ regarding immediate actions needed for the access to education for refugees and asylum seekers. The advocacy included increased budget for education institutions for the integration of refugees and recommendations and tips for the teachers and education support personnel. Only available in German.

Decent welcome (France)

French education unions and Solidarité laïque, a development NGO, launched a national funding call to provide immediate assistance to refugee families arriving in France. They aim to urgently provide education support to children and youth, provide school equipment and supplies, literacy courses and cultural and sport activities. The initiative aims to contribute to decently welcoming those who have lost everything and hope for a better future.

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