Hundreds of refugees have left their country with what they have been fleeing from bombs or their persecutors. And they have often left behind their family, their profession, their belongings and the documents that prove who they are and what their past is. Now the Council of Europe – whose objective is the defense and promotion of human rights – has proposed to help them rebuild their lives through the European Passport for Qualifications for Refugees, which accredits – after an evaluation – their training so that they can continue their studies or work on their own in the host country. What began in refugee camps in Greece and Italy as a pilot project in 2017 now takes on another dimension with the addition of Germany, France and five other countries among which Spain is not yet. This role "is the main tool for integrating refugees into European societies," says the Council.
Having academic degrees does not open the doors in Spain to refugees. The homologation is a litany. "The deadlines are not real. They tell you that six months and we have cases of three years waiting, "says Raquel Santos, of the Refugee Assistance Commission (CEAR). "Either they give you an approval conditioned to an aptitude test or they demand a period of work placement or a job that demonstrates your skills."
In addition to the delay, the economy is a barrier. The refugees have to pay the certificate of authenticity and the fees that are very high. "We can not give them the money in advance – then we pay it – and their priority, of course, is finding a job," adds Santos.
Being a refugee is a stigma. María Jesús Vega, spokesperson for UNHCR Spain, recalls that many Spaniards are overqualified for their profession, but that the situation of the exiles is much worse. "They do not start from scratch but from less than 10 in their new life: they are of another race, religion, language … They have no contacts or family to support them, or payrolls or endorsements. Many can not go to their embassies – because, sometimes, their governments persecute them – and have gone through traumatic situations: deaths of relatives, imprisonment or torture.
The pilot project, promoted by the Ministry of Education of Greece in 2017, has laid the foundations for a program that is expected to receive its final boost in March in the Education Commission of the Council of Europe. This body does not have the authority to issue an official document, so each of the 47 member states must recognize this accreditation in their internal bureaucracy.
Anwan showed that she is a physiotherapist and takes a master's degree in Norway
"This passport reminds me of what happened to the Republicans who left at the end of the Civil War in Spain," Francisco Michavila, Spanish Education Advisor to the OECD compares. "The president of Mexico Lázaro Cárdenas had the great generosity to say: 'Well, here, even if one does not have the title that proves whether he is an architect or engineer, if he comes with two guarantors we recognize him. And the refugees try the same, "continues Michavila, who attended the last Education meeting of the Council of Europe.
The Lisbon Recognition Convention, signed in 2007 – Spain joined in 2009 – obliges States to develop measures to validate the qualifications of refugees without documents, but little was done for a decade. In 2012, during a summit of 47 Ministers of Education in Bucharest, the issue was re-addressed without progress. And in 2016 a Council report showed that only 15 of the 47 countries issued a comprehensive background document that acknowledged secondary and high school studies, but not a word of university degrees. That year thousands of refugees arrived on the coasts and Europe finally opened its eyes to the drama.
Agencies for refugees from Norway and the United Kingdom They have developed their own methodology to prove their level of education, work experience and language proficiency. The candidate has three weeks to respond to a test that is sent to two evaluators who have a week to review it. At least one of them must be an expert in the language and university system of the country of the passport applicant. Finally, both examiners interview for an hour with the applicant.
This is the process followed by Syria Rawaa or young Anwan Horani. The latter, of Palestinian origin, lived all her life in Syria, where she got married. The couple fled from the bombs with a very small suitcase, first to Turkey and then to Greece, where she was examined showing that she has a degree in Physiotherapy. Today, with a smile, Anwan, who follows an International Public Health course in Norway and in English, tells in a video of the Council what his new life is like: "I am quite happy. In five months I have managed to be accepted in a collegue and people are surprised. I feel very grateful to Greece that, despite its difficulties, opened our arms. "
The pilot project, supported by UNHCR, was launched with three evaluation sessions -73 of the 92 applicants managed to certify their qualification- in Greek camps. In a second wave, Greece, Italy and the Netherlands hosted another five days with 230 interviewees. In this last and third stage, scheduled until 2020, the interviews are now also on-line so as not to limit them only to the refugee camps.
"Without titles, people are demotivated and recycled," says a spokeswoman for CEAR
"People get discouraged without their qualifications and opt for professional recycling because they have to survive," explains Raquel Santos, coordinator of Labor Inclusion of the Refugee Assistance Commission (CEAR). "If we see that the homologation of their studies is very complicated, we recommend that they obtain a certificate of professionalism. The one of degree 1 (hospitality, ATS, tourism) is not very difficult, but for 2 (administrative positions) they ask you for more training requirements ".
Last November, the National Association of Centers of e-learnig a distance (ANCED) launched with the 12 European partners and the Remote University of Madrid (UDIMA) the Refuskills program with the same objectives.
Mahmou is a Syrian graduate refugee. After passing through Lebanon and Turkey – account the Council of Europe – came to a field in Macedonia. "The passport has awakened me, I have another chance in life," he tells the cameras without revealing what his occupation was. "The social workers asked me what I knew how to do and I had nothing to teach. This role saved me when I was worse. People have stopped looking at me differently. "