THE RIGHTS OF MIGRANT CHILDREN
Good afternoon and thank you to the Council of Europe and the European Student Think Tank for organising this Seminar on Human Rights and the rights of migrant children in Europe.
I’m a member of the Committee of Development and Cooperation and I’m also the European Parliament standing rapporteur for Humanitarian Aid.
This is a very important issue and it is one of the priorities for my political group, the Socialist and Democrats in the European Parliament. We understand it is our duty to care more for the protection of the most vulnerable ones, and children, and in particular migrant children, are among those.
This is why my political group has been continuously working on this field and has taken several initiatives to support children rights, and the right to education in particular.
Back in 2015 we campaigned to put education for children in emergencies in the spotlight.
We proposed the EDUCA initiative. The goal and the spirit of the EDUCA campaign was to join forces with the international community calling the international donors to double the funds dedicated to education for children in emergencies.
Moreover, we succeed on that. The EU agreed to take the first step and earmark a minimum 4% of its humanitarian aid for education.
Education represents the essential means in ensuring children’s dignity and the prospective of a prosperous future. Increasing access to education provides life opportunities, leads to better economic prospects, improved health and makes us all better citizens whilst having a profound impact on society as a whole.
I want to share with you a study that was promoted by the Global Progressive Forum, the platform that I currently chair.
The GPF is an initiative created in 2003 by the PES and the S&D group to connect progressive policy makers, NGOs and experts, and debate on the effects of globalization and work for an alternative model of development.
During these years, we have been running several projects also about the most vulnerable among refugees, namely, women, children and LGBTI people.
The back to school project started last year from a very simple question: There are 1.5 million refugee children between Europe and Turkey today. We have seen many scared refugee children escaping their countries and landing on our shores, but what happens to them afterwards? Do they end up in a refugee camp? How long does it take before they see again a school, which for a child is the first step towards a normal life and integration?
Thanks to the researchers of Migration Policy Group and the Sirius Policy Network on Migrant Education we have tried to shed some light on the schooling of child refugees in Europe.
This is an important but not exhaustive first step, also because, one of the most worrying data that emerges from the research is the absence of data. Most of these children have dramatically disappeared from our radars. There are very few official data and information about them.
The study focused on seven European Union countries and Turkey. Unfortunately, our research shows delays and lack of resources and, in the best scenarios, that some form of instruction often translates into educational-recreational activities, not actual schooling.
There is also significant differences between EU countries but also within the same country, more often due to lack of resources and lack of national guidelines.
Apart from anything, this situation has alarming consequences for the children’s chances of receiving an education. According to UNICEF data, many refugee children have already lost an average of two and a half years of schooling in their home country due to the impact of conflict and violence.
Once in Europe, transfers between refugee centres and other delays in assessing their requests for asylum can add up to three and a half additional years during which they are deprived of learning opportunities. For unaccompanied minors, it can take even longer, as they also need to be provided with a guardian.
Once they finally go to school, refugee children face other challenges which make it harder for them to integrate with their new classmates.
The acknowledge of the language, their psychosocial conditions as they are often traumatised after long periods of insecurity, their difficulty to find comrades among children that are not of their same age, require to provide preparatory and language classes and specific support to overcome these barriers and ultimately to attend school just like any other children.
However, in most countries, the fate of these children depends on the place to which they are relocated and on the resources and generosity of the teachers there, as there is a lack on nation-wide criteria in this field.
Contrary to those who argue that, at a time when Europe is confronted with populist movements who perpetuate a negative narrative against refugees and migrants, we shouldn’t worry too much about children’s education, we say that this would be a serious mistake.
For a child refugee, education is nothing short of lifesaving: sending them back to school is a way of protecting them against the risk of abduction, abuse and exploitation, providing them with adequate opportunities to thrive and successfully integrate into the hosting societies.
Education is also a fundamental human right, secured by the Convention on the Rights of the Child and other international conventions that were freely signed by our countries and it is enshrined in most of the Member States constitutional laws.
European law provides that every European country must offer one form of education to each refugee child within 3 months from the filing of the asylum application and that they must guarantee refugee children full access to education under the same conditions as nationals.
We acknowledge that the challenges are important and one size does not fit all but there are good experiences to build on: from early childhood education for younger children to offering non-formal learning classes to help preparing children to join the formal education systems. Investing in learning opportunities adapted to the different needs, from psychosocial support to language instruction – is essential.
This is why, recalling European Parliament recommendations, we should be calling on our Governments and on the EU Institutions to redouble their efforts to ensure that all asylum-seeking children are given access to education without delay.
At the very least, this should happen within three months of the child’s first entry to the EU, as provided for by EU legislation.
One way to achieve this would be to integrate all children – no matter what legal status they have- into the education system where they live so they can freely attend school and learn. It is the very least we, as Europeans, can do, to help these children rebuild their lives and futures.