PICUM’s Senior Advocacy Officer Lilana Keith recently met with representatives of education trade unions and employers from Nordic and Anglo-Saxon countries in Copenhagen, to raise awareness about the legal and practical barriers which undocumented children face in accessing education and about the role of schools in facilitating such access.
Access to compulsory education is often granted to undocumented children by law. However, this universal right is often only implicit in laws which speak about ‘all children’ being required to attend certain levels of schooling, without any specific reference to undocumented children or the right to access regardless of migration or residence status.
When legislation is implicit about the inclusion of undocumented children, it opens up the space for situations where their right to education can be limited.
For example, undocumented children may not be allowed to take official exams or be denied formal certification for studies completed, because they are not officially registered as students or some form of national identification is required to do so. Undocumented children are usually also formally excluded from carrying out internships and training, even when part of compulsory education.
Besides the legal barriers, there are many practical obstacles that make it difficult for undocumented children to effectively access education. For instance, undocumented parents are unable to provide documents required for registration, such as identity documents and proof of address. Many schools and other educational institutions might refuse registration because they don’t know about undocumented children’s rights, which are also generally complex and often change. Lack of awareness among undocumented families, as well as fears – and in some countries, real risk – that their school registration data might be shared with immigration authorities, also prevent many families from enrolling their children, as sending their children to school would place them at risk of detention and deportation.
Notwithstanding these barriers, many undocumented children do attend school and are an integral part of their school communities. For this reason, schools have been an essential site for social inclusion of undocumented children, as well as community organising and resistance to harmful migration policies. In several countries, school communities have been instrumental in campaigns to prevent the deportation of one of their classmates, and in regularisation campaigns.
Several examples of actions taken to advocate for regularisations can be found in PICUM’s Manual on regularisations for children, young people and families, which was published in April 2018. The manual has been prepared by – and for – organisations working on advocating for mechanisms to regularise undocumented children, young people and families. It aims to be a source of inspiration and reflection. There is also an Executive Summary with policy recommendations for decision-makers.
The conference “Learning Together: Education and Migration” was jointly organised by the European Trade Union Committee for Education and the European Federation of Education Employers, and supported by the European Commission, DG Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion.
The discussions will inform joint social partners guidelines on the promotion of effective integration of migrant and refugee learners in education.
For more information on promising policies practices to promote access to education for undocumented children, see Protecting Undocumented Children: Promising policies and practices from governments.