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Council of Europe Working party on Refugee qualifications

Guidelines for the recognition
of refugee's qualifications

presentation for the seminar in Strasburg 15-16 Nov 1999
by Mr. Erwin Malfroy, NARIC-Flanders


The assessment of refugees’ qualifications
Guidelines for the credential evaluator
The "Background document" on refugee's qualification



The report of the Danish Refugee Council ‘Assessment and Recognition

of Refugees’ Qualifications in the European Community’ (December 1998) identified a number of recognition-related problems facing refugees in many countries.

Numerous refugees who could be contributing to the European societies using their qualifications are today unemployed or obliged to restart education or training already completed in their home country. Whilst many barriers can be mentioned to explain refugee unemployment, there is much evidence that systems for assessment and recognition of foreign certificates, skills and knowledge often fail to offer refugees appropriate routes into employment or further education and training.

Important changes have taken place in the field of assessment and recognition of foreign qualifications in Europe, such as increasing cooperation within higher education (e.g. the Bologna Declaration and the new model of the Diploma Supplement, the implementation of EU directives concerning the recognition of regulated professions and the Lisbon Recognition Convention. Concepts of recognition have evolved towards a wider acceptance of differences between various education systems.

In recent years, the question of recognition of refugees' qualifications has been dealt with within several European forums on refugee integration or international mobility. Conventions, like the Lisbon Recognition Convention and networks existing in the field of higher education have begun to address the particular problems of refugees and, in some European countries, the question has been given some attention by the government.

The main recognition-related problems facing refugees are:

- insufficient information and opaque procedures;

- lack of provisions for various areas of assessment or recognition;

- lack of procedures to deal with insufficient documentation;

- additional procedures or requirements for non-EU nationals;

- lack of financial support and bridging to mainstream education and training.

These are problems adding to the barriers affecting the professional and academic opportunities of refugee qualification holders. 

The assessment of refugees’ qualifications

The assessment of a refugee qualification calls for a different approach than that normally used by credential evaluators.

Instead of assessing a qualification on the basis of a well documented file, credential evaluators will often have to assess refugee qualifications on the basis of incomplete – or even entirely missing – information about both the individual qualification and the system from which it hails. The educational system may be a parallel one or may be broken down caused by a civil war.

It goes without saying that the legalisation of the refugees’ documents by an authority of a refugee producing country is a Danaides’ job.

An assessment of competence instead of an assessment of documents may be a soulsaving approach.

The working party of the Council of Europe suggests in this document a kind of good practice for the credential evaluator dealing with refugees’ qualifications.

The guidelines may be used by the parties of the Lisbon Recognition Convention as a tool to fulfill their legal duty mentioned in article VII:

‘Each Party shall take all feasible and reasonable steps within the framework of its education system and in conformity with its constitutional, legal, and regulatory provisions to develop procedures designed to access fairly and expeditiously whether refugees, displaced persons and persons in a refugee-like situation fulfill the relevant requirements for access to higher education, to further higher education programmes or to employment activities, even in cases in which the qualifications obtained in one of the Parties cannot be proven trough documentary evidence.’

Credential evaluators belonging to an ENIC may use the Statement by the ENIC Network on the crisis in South East Europe to strengthen their efforts to implement the suggested guidelines.

 Guidelines for the credential evaluator

The guidelines are based upon the suggestions made by the Danish Refugee Council in their report.

Terms are used in the same sense as the educational terms in the Lisbon Recognition Convention.

The guidelines are in particular directed at recognition cases where a refugee qualification is involved. It is understood that for the recognition of refugees’ qualifications the general principles and good practices for the assessment of foreign qualifications are unrestricted applicable.

Next to the guidelines, the credential evaluator is invited to contact the ENIC and NARIC Network and share the gained knowledge and experience concerning the recognition of refugees’ qualifications.

 1. The recognition issue is the assessment of refugee qualifications on the basis of incomplete – or even entirely missing – information about both the individual qualification and the system from which it hails.

Missing documented information in the process of access to higher education could be compensated by interviews, special examinations, sworn statements or competence tests.

Credential evaluators should also accept supporting evidence demonstrating the student had access to higher education in the home country, thus resulting in the possibility to apply the principle of the Convention on the equivalence of diplomas leading to admission to universities nr.15 of the Council of Europe.

Some examples of supporting evidence:

  • teachers’ statements about the followed educational training
  • a published list of registered students
  • student Ids
  • students’ index
  • transcripts
  • admittance to State Examinations
  • professional status

Credential evaluators should also accept documents from supporting institutions, like The British Council and the Red Cross.

 A provisional recognition for the purpose of employment can be granted under the condition the refugee proofs his or her skills and competence in the line of the claimed final educational training trough supervised temporary employment.

2. In order not to loose valuable time, the refugee should

  • have access to the assessment at an early stage in order not to miss the start of the academic year. A conditional access upon arrival of the required documents after a special examination or interview should be possible.
  • receive a final recognition decision within 4 months after the application
  • be able to obtain an advisory statement that can be used as a reliable tool in job search, career guidance, etc. Of course, this kind of statement can not replace a real recognition decision.
  • be able to stay in touch with the field of study, profession or trade, through various measures including bridging courses with language tuition

3. To give refugees full benefit of their individual qualifications skills and knowledge, the criteria for the assessment of the refugee qualification for employment purposes should include work experience, which can be proven by statements of employers. The work experience should make it possible to:

  • bridge undocumented educational gap
  • fully compensate detected shortfalls, like a shortage of practical training hours
  • update old degrees

4. Refugees are often in a difficult financial situation. No extra fees for the assessment of refugees’ qualifications should be charged, on the contrary, refugees may be exempted from it. To reduce the costs even more the credential evaluators should accept as much as possible documents in another language. They should also accept translations of the documents into another language than theirs.

 5. The information on the procedures and criteria for the assessment of refugees’ qualifications should be plain and the written materials, such as the application form should be in a relevant language, where appropriate.

Social workers, vocational guidance counselors, etc. should be kept informed on the procedures and criteria for the assessment of refugees’ qualifications.

6. In case the credential evaluator discover a substantial difference between the refugees’ qualification and the local one, suitable adaptation courses to bridge the gaps and shortfalls should be encouraged to organize, taking into account the refugees’ qualifications to avoid starting from scratch.

7. Relevant data on refugee applicants should be collected in order to provide information facilitating the development of integration measures.

8. By organizing encounters (face tot face or via the Internet) between

  • assessment agencies and refugee-assisting organizations
  • assessment agencies and labour-assisting organizations

the awareness of certain recognition procedure problems will increase and solutions can be suggested and discussed.

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