Anwar, originally from Syria, is now continuing her studies in Oslo, Norway
Anwar, originally from Syria, is now continuing her studies in Oslo, Norway

What if you had to flee your country and were not able to take any documents showing your educational qualifications with you? The Council of Europe has come up with a solution.

Many of the refugees and asylum seekers who arrive in Europe find themselves having to face mountains of paperwork in order to establish their lives in a host country. This is often made more difficult if the person does not have documentation to prove aspects of their lives, such as education certificates. Such documentation may have been forgotten in the rush to escape violence or persecution, or it may have been lost during the journey.

The Council of Europe launched a project in 2017 that aims to simplify part of this process. Refugees who finished high school or attended university in their home countries can now apply to have their education level assessed.

If they are able to demonstrate a certain level of knowledge or education, they can be issued with a European Qualifications Passport. This document also provides information on a person’s work experience and language proficiency.

Interviews are conducted by at least two people one of whom will have specialist knowledge of the participants country

It is based on a successful project that was already in place in Norway. The goal was to take this model and develop an assessment process and document that would be valid Europe-wide. "The idea behind the format is that refugees should be able to use passports in several situations, and also if they move to other European countries," Sjur Bergan, head of the Council of Europe’s education department, told InfoMigrants. "It is not as good as having original documentation, but it's a good second-best option."

According the Council of Europe website: "The idea is that this information should be accepted and easily interpreted in any European country. In the long term, this methodology can save costs for host countries by facilitating and accelerating the assessment of refugees’ qualifications."

The Qualifications Passport is not intended to replace or substitute identification and educational documentation. Nor can it guarantee employment or access to further studies. But it may enable refugees to apply for jobs in their field of knowledge, or to apply for further studies, facilitating better and faster integration. But perhaps equally important, it is a recognition of people’s former lives and the skills and learning they have brought with them.

What is involved?

Firstly, participants are selected, which until now has been done by the Ministry of Education and Religious Affairs in Greece. A questionnaire is sent out about three weeks before the evaluation, and participants have two weeks to fill it in. This leaves the evaluators one week to review the answers.

After this, interviews are held, which take between 45 minutes to one hour. A decision is then made on whether or not to issue the document. The European Qualifications Passport is valid for five years from the date of issue.

Applying for a European Qualifications Passport

"The interviews are usually conducted by two people", Bergan explained to InfoMigrants. "The situation requires that one evaluator knows the language and education system of the participant's country so that the person's claims can be checked." For example, if someone says they have studied a certain course at a university in Syria, evaluators will look at whether that particular course was offered at that time. "It is a serious assessment," said Bergan. "In one case, a woman mispronounced the name of the institution she said she had studied at."

The pilot project is run by the Council of Europe’s Education Department and is part of the Action Plan, Building Inclusive Societies. It is supported by the UNHCR Office in Greece and the project’s partners include the Greek Ministry of Education, Research and Religious Affairs, as well as qualification recognition centers in Greece, Italy, Norway and the UK.  

Sjur Bergan left head of the Council of Europes education department in a meeting of the projects coordination group

So far there have been three evaluation sessions that were held in March, June and October, 2017, in Athens, Greece. Last year 91 refugees had their qualifications assessed, resulting in 73 European Qualifications Passports being issued.

Expansion this year

There are plans to expand the project to Italy in 2018. "We are now starting the second phase of the project," said Bergan. "We hope to test out more online options." According to Bergan, there are future plans to have a "pool of credentials evaluators who will have been trained in the methodology, with particular knowledge of certain parts of the world." These experts would then be able to conduct the interview phase via Skype, he explained.

There are also future plans that would see information about this project given to asylum seekers when they apply for refugee status in Greece, and possibly Italy. At the moment, people who are interested in having their credentials assessed should contact the Greek Ministry of Education.

You can watch a documentary about the project here.


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