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Germany: teacher unions calling for support to integrate refugee children

published 3 September 2015 updated 9 September 2015

Amid the increasing number of refugees seeking peace and safety across Europe, teacher unions in Education International’s European Region are stressing the importance of integrating refugee children in schools as students return to the classroom.

As the school year begins throughout Europe, German member organisations in the ETUCE, Education International (EI)’s European Region, are raising awareness to the importance of integrating and including refugee children in schools, stressing that every child has a right to education. Many teachers, wishing to engage in including refugee children and young people, are often left on their own to find solutions.

The German teacher unions have proposed different measures to integrate the partly traumatised children with different cultural backgrounds, levels of education and mother tongues into the German education system. Marlis Tepe, the chairwomen of the trade union for Education and Science (Gewerkschaft für Erziehung und Wissenschaft/ GEW) has called on local authorities, the federal states, and the German government to increase their support to school leadership and teachers.

"The number of wars and conflicts is increasing worldwide rapidly. Currently, more people are on the run as the end of World War II, more than half children. The human right to education applies to all children, youth and adults - without exception. By signing the Convention on the Rights of the Child, Germany has committed to every child - regardless of its origin and his residence status - to open up access to learning opportunities, "said Tepe.

The Federation of Education and Training (Verband Bildung und Erziehung/ VBE) demands a common financing plan by the German federal states for the schooling of refugee children and highlights that short-run agendas would not help. In order to ensure equality of educational opportunities the number of social workers and educational staff should be increased. These measures would not only ensure a more tolerant learning environment in schools, it would give teacher the time to address and tackle racism.

The facts don’t lie

Beyond the headlines detailing the plight of asylum seekers desperately fleeing their homes, such as Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq and Somalia, are the children who must endure the dangerous journey amid great uncertainty and enormous risk. Even after receiving refugee status, the difficult challenge remains to get children into school and integrated into new communities and cultures.

According to the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) Global Trends report:

-The number of people forcibly displaced at the end of 2014 had risen to a staggering 59.5 million compared to 51.2 million a year earlier and 37.5 million a decade ago

-Germany and Sweden received last year 43 percent of the asylum requests in Europe

-Over half the world's refugees are children

-Syria: Internally displaced people (7.6 million) and refugees (3.88 million at the end of 2014) Refugees in Afghanistan (2.59 million) and in Somalia (1.1 million)

-Nine out of every 10 refugees (86 percent) are in regions and countries considered economically less developed

Education International responded to the growing humanitarian emergency in July at its 7th World Congress in Ottawa, passing a resolution to address Education and Displaced People. Within the resolution, EI intends to support affiliate organisations where large numbers of refugees and displaced people exist, as well as apply continued pressure on governments to fulfil their commitments and provide financial assistance.