On 8 June 2012 the Center for the Study of Democracy hosted the public discussion Integrating Refugee and Asylum-Seeking Children in the Educational Systems of EU Member States: the Case of Bulgaria. The publication of a Handbook with the same title was the occasion for this event, which presented the main findings of a systematic study of the educational integration of refugee and asylum-seeking children (RASC) in Bulgaria and focused on the transferability of good European practices in the field into the specific domestic context.
In the opening remarks, Prof.Andrey Nonchev, Director of the Sociological Program at CSD, introduced the 1.5-year-long research project INTEGRACE, whose most important conclusions were summarized in the Handbook and the Policy Brief, both distributed to the guests of the event. He repeatedly encouraged the participants to give constructive feedback about the presented policy recommendations in order to help this Handbook find its practical application on the institutional level.
Dr. Mila Mancheva, Senior Analyst in CSD’s Sociological Program, began with an overview of the Handbook’s content and structure and delved into the experience of Bulgaria in integrating RASC into the educational system of the country. Using a schematic graphic, she reminded the audience of three stages of the process of educational integration of RASC and described some of the inherent weaknesses of these integration practices. Furthermore, Dr. Mancheva suggested manifold ways to overcome the shortcomings in each of the three integration stages. The recommendations concerned three main areas of improvement: access to education, assessment of the RASC’s knowledge and individual needs; and quality of education. In conclusion, Dr. Mancheva stated that currently the educational integration of RASC might not seem like a priority for the Bulgarian state, but the institutions should be prepared in case of an increased influx of migrants of this kind in the future.
As first from the invited representatives of state institutions and non-governmental organizations to share his reactions, Mr.Tsvetan Petrov, Director of the Integration Center at the State Agency for Refugees, acknowledged the importance of the statistical data and the recommendations of this study. He pointed to the promising progress in the areas of the state-administrated financial support for RASC and their families and the improvement of the training schemes and the conditions in the classrooms at the Integration Center.
Ms.Dora Ivanova from “Petar Beron” Foundation proposed that the educational integration of RASC could be improved by adapting existing teaching methods in the education of bilingual children. She gave concrete examples of teaching programs and activities that would supposedly meet the needs of the target group.
Ms. Marinela Radeva, Chairwoman of the Association for Integration of Refugees and Migrants, touched upon several of shortcomings of the state policy with respect to the educational integration of RASC. She denounced the existing legislation for being discriminatory and based on outdated data. However, Ms. Radeva seemed optimistic about the recent work of cultural mediators in Sofia and the involvement of the European Refugee Fund.
The participants concluded that so far the topic of the educational integration of RASC hasn’t received appropriate attention from policy makers in Bulgaria, but hopefully the Handbook, the Policy Brief and public discussions like this one will ignite society’s interest in the issues of RASC.
* Project co-financed under the European Refugee Fund. Sole responsibility lies with the author and the Commission is not responsible for any use that may be made of the information contained herein.