Refugees and Migrants

published 8 March 2017 updated 24 July 2017


EI is guided by the principles of human rights, democracy, and social justice. EI recognizes that education is a human right and a public good helping to enable people at all stages in their lives to achieve their maximum potential. EI has an role to play in promoting the right to learn and right to teach for refugees and migrants both because education is fundamental to this work and because it is, by its very nature, an international issue.

The growing refugee and displaced persons’ crisis is stunning 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 are under 18 years old. Displaced children are disproportionately at risk of forced labour, trafficking, child marriage, sexual exploitation, and recruitment in armed conflicts and violence.

This displacement can last for months, years, or even a lifetime, resulting in parts of a whole generation of children  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 attend 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 rights include quality education, education provided by public authorities and available freely to all, inclusive education and equality in education and society, and qualified and high professional status for their teachers.

Displaced persons and refugees also include teachers, researchers, or education 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 fully respected.

Most refugees are found in developing countries. In the case of Syrian refugees, most of them are in neighbouring countries. Conditions are not always good and there are many weaknesses in the availability and quality of education. It is important that host countries receive adequate international assistance to ensure that all human rights of refugees, including the right to education, are respected.

EI is concerned that some countries are not fully respecting their treaty obligations to accept refugees and honour the specific provisions of the UN 1951 Refugee Convention and its 1967 protocol. For migrants, there are also excellent Conventions of the ILO and the UN that are ratified by too few States.


EI policy regarding refugees and migrants is mostly shaped by various resolutions passed by the World Congresses, in addition to specific documents published by EI. The World Congresses have passed the following resolutions with regards to migrants and refugees: “Resolution on Children of Refugees and Asylum Seekers” (1998), “Resolution on Teacher Migration and Mobility” (2011), “Resolution on Migration, Professional Diversity, and Racism” (2015), and “Resolution on the right to education for displaced people, refugees, and stateless children” (2015).


Migrant Teacher Rights’ Portal

Entry into the teaching profession and related roles must be inclusive and without discrimination. Governments should recognize the skills and experiences that refugee and migrant teachers and education support personnel bring and find avenues for involving them in education and training, without discrimination or exploitation. Efforts should be made to recognize their qualifications and special status. Public authorities should also support and monitor employment practices to ensure that discrimination does not occur.

EI has supported the rights of migrants and migrant teachers with the “Resolution of Teacher Migration and Mobility” (2011), the Teacher Migration Task Force (2012-2015), the establishment and maintenance of the portal https://www.education4refugees.org, the fostering of a Virtual Global Network of Migrant Teachers and the conduction of a study in 2010 on education for refugee and asylum seeking children with case studies from Australia, Spain, Sweden, and the United Kingdom. The 2015 World Congress “Resolution on Migration, Professional Diversity, and Racism” stated that migrant teachers should enjoy the right to dignity at work, free from any form of discrimination. To check the Migrant Teacher Rights Portal, click here: https://www.education4refugees.org.

Refugee Education Conference

A major EI conference was held in Stockholm in November 2016 to bring together education union representatives with others to share experience on refugee education and provide ideas for progressing the implementation if the EI program on refugee education. For more information, please read the background paper and the report of the conference.

Education Unions Initiatives

Education unions have a special role to play in safeguarding the human and trade union rights of persons, whatever their status, and particularly children, but also teachers, education support personnel, researchers, students, and education unionists. EI and member organizations have an important role to play in helping to ensure that the right to education is delivered to displaced persons, that this education is inclusive, and that the roles of all education personnel amongst displaced persons are recognized, valued, and rewarded.

Key activities include:

  • Analysing policies and practices of educational authorities in destination countries in providing education to these children and youth.
  • Advocating policies and practices to deliver the right to education and the rights of education personnel.
  • Strategizing 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.

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

The American Federation of Teachers (AFT) and Mexico’s Trabajadores de la Solidarité interculturalism.

The World Congress, therefore, mandates the Executive Board, in cooperation with member organizations:

  1. To campaign for the ratification and implementation of international instruments that promote the human and trade union rights of migrants, migrant teachers and their families and, in particular, the ratification of the UN Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families and ILO Conventions 97 and 143.

  2. To promote the Commonwealth Teacher Recruitment Protocol and/or its principles, as well as support other international, regional, or national efforts to develop and implement policies, programs, and instruments that promote and protect the rights of migrants, migrant teachers, and other education employees.

  3. To campaign for the regulation of the activities of recruitment agencies in order to curb unethical practices and the exploitation of migrant teachers.

  4. To support international, regional, and national level initiatives that promote mobility of students and skilled education personnel and the cross-border recognition of comparable qualifications.

  5. To cooperate with other Global Unions in defending the rights of migrants, migrant teachers, and other education employees and their families and to lobby governments and international organizations such as UNESCO, the ILO, IOM (International Organization for Migration), the World Bank and the OECD to develop policies that facilitate voluntary student and teacher mobility, while protecting the integrity of vulnerable education systems, and particularly those of developing countries.

  6. To establish a Teacher Migration Task Force comprised of representatives from both source and destination countries and to develop a virtual Global Network of Migrant Teachers in order to facilitate the sharing of information and ideas.

  7. Encourages member organizations to make decisions which impede discrimination against their students based on their nationality or ethnicity, or the migratory condition and to organize migrant teachers and other education employees, recruit them and defend their human and trade union rights and to support them and their families to integrate successfully in the host country to ensure that employers in the educational sector do not use migrant workers as casual labor, child marriage, sexual exploitation, and violence and recruitment by armed militia.

  8. That many displaced children are denied access to even the most basic levels of education.

  9. That children born stateless, much like children who arrive in a foreign country after their parents’ exile are generally particularly vulnerable as concerns their rights.

The Congress further notes:

  1. That more than 100 years ago, the Red Cross established the right to healthcare in conflict zones, but the right of refugees to education has yet to be won.

  2. That national governments have the primary responsibility for ensuring children’s rights in displacement.

  3. That displacement can last for years or a lifetime. In many instances, children who are displaced grow up without any education throughout their lives.

  4. In a context where children are fleeing from conflict or natural disasters, education is too often seen as a “luxury” and not as a priority for displaced children.

  5. That the success of Education International’s Unite for Quality Education campaign depends upon national and international efforts to protect the right to quality education for the world’s most vulnerable children, including refugee and displaced children.

  6. That education is a fundamental human right that should be accessible to all people including those displaced by conflict or natural disasters.

  7. That education fosters understanding of and respect for others, and therefore plays an important role in preventing violence and conflicts.

  8. That national governments and the international community should be explicitly obliged to ensure that this right is a reality for all children and young people.

  9. That richer countries should contribute more to fulfil the spirit of their international commitments and obligations to meeting the needs of refugee and displaced children, including through the provision of access to education.

The Congress resolves:

  1. To continue to advance the ideals, aims, and objectives of the EI Unite for Quality Education campaign in the interests of refugee and displaced children, ensuring that the problem of the language of schooling is not an obstacle for refugees.

  2. To continue to provide support and assistance to member organizations in countries where there are large numbers of refugees and displaced children.

  3. To maintain pressure on national governments and international institutions to prioritize financial assistance for the education of refugees and internally displaced people, especially in states having a common border with a country of conflict and welcoming a very important number of them.

  4. To work with affiliates, the UNHCR and other partner organizations to assist refugees in developing the skills and knowledge they need and to plan activities and actions that promote self-reliance and sustainable, peaceful coexistence.