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Education, Participation, Integration – Erasmus+ and Refugees - Veranstaltungsdokumentation

Transnational Cooperation Activity

19/20 April 2016, Essen, Germany

Supporting EU member states' efforts to integrate recently arrived refugees and migrants into their national education systems is an urgent task. The Erasmus+ programme offers innovative opportunities and best practices for member states. Many organisations in the fields of vocational education and training, adult education, higher education, school education and child and youth welfare can address those issues in form of European projects.

Thomas Rachel, Parliamentary State Secretary © NA beim BIBB / Jörg Heupel
Thomas Rachel, Parliamentary State Secretary © NA beim BIBB / Jörg Heupel

In consideration of the continuing urgency of the current refugee crisis, the four German National Agencies for Erasmus+ hosted the Transnational Cooperation Activity (TCA) conference “Education, Participation, Integration - Erasmus+ and Refugees" from 19th to 20th April 2016 in Essen, Germany. The main goals of the event were to support institutions and organisations in their efforts to facilitate the integration of refugees into education and society by providing a platform where they can exchange innovative concepts, just as to increase the visibility of European support through Erasmus+. The TCA that took place in the Zollverein Coal Mine UNESCO World heritage site offered networking opportunities for up to 300 participants from selected organisations conducting innovative projects and stakeholders from 24 EU-countries. Furthermore, participants had the opportunity to discuss the needs and gaps referring to the refugee crisis in thematic workshops as well as to exchange good practice.

"Addressing global challenges as Europe's mission"

Klaus Fahle, Director of the NA at BIBB © NA beim BIBB / Jörg Heupel
Klaus Fahle, Director of the NA at BIBB © NA beim BIBB / Jörg Heupel

In his welcome speech, Klaus Fahle, Director of the National Agency Education for Europe at the Federal Institute for Vocational Education and Training (NA at BIBB), emphasized that the integration of recently arrived refugees and immigrants was not only a matter of several national states but also a challenge that had to be met by the European Union as a whole. In that context, he highlighted the meaning of the Erasmus+ programme as a European learning and exchange platform offering ample opportunities to give innovative impulses from the European educational practice.

Thomas Rachel, Parliamentary State Secretary to the Federal Minister of Education and Research, underlined the importance as well as the potential of European cooperation in his keynote speech: “We clearly need cooperation at European level. Addressing global challenges in a joint effort will become an increasingly important mission for Europe which will strengthen the community of Member States. And what would be better suited to stimulate European participation and integration than the EU's "Erasmus+" education programme.“

Individual perspective on flight and migration

(FLTR): Paul Guest (Moderator); Klaus Fahle (NA at BIBB); Thomas Rachel (Federal Ministry of Education and Research); Rasha Abbas (Author and Journalist); Ville Tietäväinen (Studio Tietäväinen) © NA beim BIBB / Jörg Heupel
(FLTR): Paul Guest (Moderator); Klaus Fahle (NA at BIBB); Thomas Rachel (Federal Ministry of Education and Research); Rasha Abbas (Author and Journalist); Ville Tietäväinen (Studio Tietäväinen) © NA beim BIBB / Jörg Heupel

Before the conference turned into a learning and exchange platform, two keynote speakers gave their own point of view on the topic of the arrival in a foreign society. Both being authors personally affected by the issues of flight and migration, their input was strongly characterized by an individual perspective. Rasha Abbas, a Syrian refugee herself, provided a humorous insight into her own experience with the German immigration and integration system. With the support of his brutally honest graphic works, Finnish graphic novel artist Ville Tietäväinen drew the attention to the harsh reality undocumented immigrants face in Europe.

Good practice: Learning from each other

In the following first round of field-specific workshops (Higher Education, Vocational Education and Training, Adult Education, School Education and Youth) attendees had the opportunity to exchange experience and good practice referring to the state of integration in the participating countries. The dissemination of good practice was the goal of the subsequent market place, where chosen project representatives showcased innovative methodologies and tools developed in the context of Erasmus+ or one of its predecessor programmes. Afterwards, participants became involved in seven thematic workshops, where already established instruments were presented, where current challenges were identified and where the foundation for future cooperation activities was laid.

Read the summaries of the workshops and their key messages here.

Refugees as a priority in Erasmus+ projects

Chiara Gariazzo © NA beim BIBB / Jörg Heupel
Chiara Gariazzo © NA beim BIBB / Jörg Heupel

The following day was opened by Chiara Gariazzo, Director for Erasmus+, Youth and Sport of the European Commission’s (EC) Directorate General Education and Culture (DG EAC). She emphasized the EU-Commission’s efforts to promote projects addressing the integration of refugees, asylum-seekers and migrants. Thus, in 2016 projects focusing on social inclusion in general and projects involving refugees, asylum seekers and migrants and/or focussing on the topic of the refugees' crisis in Europe in particular had become the first thematic priority for the selection procedure in Erasmus+ key action 2, the strategic and collaborative partnerships. She pointed out that the topic would remain highly relevant in the near future: „Also in 2017, social inclusion in education, training, youth and sport will be considered "the priority among the priorities.

Following this, the main key messages developed in the frame of the thematic workshops on the previous day were presented to the audience. In this context, the audience was given the opportunity to vote for those messages they considered as particularly urgent and which need to be implemented into practice as soon as possible.

Critical panel discussion with an active audience

Dr. Karolis Žibas, Marta Gutierrez Benet, Thomas Huddleston (FLTR) © NA beim BIBB / Jörg Heupel
Dr. Karolis Žibas, Marta Gutierrez Benet, Thomas Huddleston (FLTR) © NA beim BIBB / Jörg Heupel

The major challenges, needs and gaps in reference to a successful integration of refugees, asylum-seekers and migrants were the topic of the concluding panel discussion between three panelists from different fields. Remarkable about this discussion was the fact that the audience took a very active part in it.

According to Thomas Huddleston, Programme Director Migration and Integration, MigrationPolicy Group, European education systems were about to fail in terms of the integration of refugees. Thus, 1/3 of non-EU citizens in the EU were not in Employment, Education or Training (NEET). Few get language courses, lifelong learning, recognition of foreign degree or a new degree.

Even more critical was Karolis Žibas, Founder and Director of ‘Diversity Development Group’, according to whom there were several European countries showing a rather selective solidarity (e. g. accepting only Christian but not Muslim refugees) or “creating unfriendly refugee integration”. However, contrary to the lack of solidarity between several national states he recognized a strong motivation and will at the local and nongovernmental level. As a consequence, he highlighted the need of civil society to put more pressure on the national policy level.

That idea was in high accordance with Thomas Huddleston’s appeal for a stronger partnership between civil society and governments in respect of the implementation of political strategies. Marta Gutierrez Benet from the Directorate General for Education and Culture at the European Commission prompted all institutions to meet the existing needs and to act in the sense of an inclusive society.

Please find attached the main points raised during the discussion for each panelist below.

Before closing the event, Klaus Fahle pointed out that inclusion had to become the “Leitmotiv” of Erasmus+ and that the conference should be rather regarded as a first step to some deeper cooperation, e. g. in the context of future transnational events.

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