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A lost opportunity for continued learning for recent refugees in Greece: A deeper look at the barriers and biases in Western institutions.

A look at the challenges faced by refugees trapped in Greece aged 16-25 attempting to access higher education in the European context.

Photo of Diana Delbecchi
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Education is a fundamental necessity for participation within a society. It is often viewed as one of the most important rights due to its strong connection with the realization of all other human rights. The current wave of refugees and migrants into Western Europe offers us a unique chance to re-evaluate higher education, its connection to human rights, and the principles of what should be a non-discriminatory system. Researching exposes this populations trials and challenges in accessing higher education using their lived experience and the biases of a system that desperately needs to re-root itself in the recognition of all learning. A 2015 survey by the UNHCR conducted at various border locations around Greece and the most frequently mentioned occupation of those fleeing was ‘student’. Many of these Syrian students were forced to leave their student status with only one or two years left until graduation, however gaining recognition for the work they have completed has proved very difficult. This particular population and all those holding university degrees or skills in specific professions requires and deserves the attention of universities in developing ways to recognize the knowledge that they bring. While special attention and research efforts need to be made towards those college-aged refugees to assist them in accessing and understanding the Western European higher education system, it is equally important to educate and inform universities regarding their discriminatory policies that are preventing this population from furthering their own education. Some of these include: certifying and paying for translation services of former transcripts, having access to transcripts or certificates to prove their educational background, competency exams being fairly scheduled and accessible to vulnerable students (i.e. cost), cost of applications, IELTS requirements and the lack of professional English teachers within the refugee camps that would allow these students to achieve the level of English required in this test to continue to higher education. Another huge limitation for these students is timing. They are stuck in limbo in Greece and unsure how much longer they have to wait for their asylum process to move forward. They are also unsure which country they will be sent to which prevents them from applying to any universities for admission due to the restriction on travel they face once they are relocated.

It is important as we look to re-shaping and re-thinking about our higher education system that we do not forget the very large population of refugees that are desperate to access the system and how we can aid in breaking down the barriers that are currently preventing their achievement.

Specifically, please check all that apply:

  • A group brainstorm
  • An Individual

Tell us about your work experience:

My background is in access to higher education. I previously worked for a small four-year public institution in the US on making college affordable for all students. During this time I ran a small community group bridging the achievement gap for undocumented and low-income students. I recently received my MA in Gender, Globalisation and Rights and completed a research thesis on the human right to education for undocumented or stateless persons in the US.

What is a provocation or insight that might inspire others during this challenge?

I believe education forms and informs citizenship and our civic participation. I see it as being an absolute foundational tool to improving our lives and the lives of others. As Paulo Friere once wrote, “It is important to clarify that citizenship is a product, a creation engendered by politics. It does not result from the simple fact that you were born in some country; this can happen from the legal point of view. But from the political point of view, citizenship is created or not.”.

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Join the conversation:

Photo of Kate Rushton

Hi Diana! Thank you for your post. It is really useful to understand the challenges for undocumented migrants. Do these same challenges apply to political asylum seekers and undocumented migrants in the US? Can mass open online courses (MOOCs) be used to bridge any gaps in knowledge? I noticed that your research thesis was on the human right to education for undocumented or stateless persons in the US. Is this post an accurate representation of the situation? Undocumented Students Is there anything missing?

Is there any chance you could find an image to go along with this post? Images help grab attention and tell a story. You should be able to use the Edit Contribution button on the top of your post and follow the instructions to add images from there. Looking forward to seeing more of your inspiring insights on OpenIDEO.