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Doc. 9380

11 March 2002

Vocational training of young asylum seekers in host countries

Report

Committee on Migration, Refugees and Demography

Rapporteur: Mrs Ans Zwerver, Netherlands, Socialist Group

Summary

Thousands of young asylum seekers live in Council of Europe member states, either alone or with families which in some cases include their dependants. The processing of their asylum applications often takes months or even years.

An overview of the availability of vocational education and training for young asylum seekers in Council of Europe member states shows uniformity in some, all too often negative aspects: training programmes are rarely addressed specifically to young asylum seekers; the private sector has little involvement in the organisation of traineeships; it is unusual for the particular needs of asylum seekers to be considered in the elaboration of training programmes. The voluntary sector plays an important role in the organisation, delivery and advertisement of these programmes, which are funded by the European Union, state contributions or the voluntary sector itself. In some countries, vocational training is withheld from asylum seekers on the basis that they will not have access to the labour market unless and until their application is successful.

The provision of appropriate vocational training for young asylum seekers is of fundamental importance for the well-being of the individual and the cohesion of the host society as a whole: vocational training would facilitate the access of asylum seekers to the labour market as soon as they have the legal right to do so and allow them to end their reliance on social benefits. In the event that the asylum application is rejected, asylum seekers are likely to have better prospects in their countries of origin if they have received vocational training, and this could also influence their willingness to return voluntarily. Finally, vocational training would raise young asylum seekers’ awareness of their prospects and opportunities in the host country and so would contribute to the fight against social exclusion.

I.       Draft recommendation

1.        Vocational education and training provide a unique opportunity for young asylum seekers to become acquainted with the labour market of the host country, readapt the skills that they acquired in the course of previous studies or professional experience, and develop new competences that they may use in the host country itself or in their country of origin.

2.       Given the length of time it may take to process an asylum application, in some cases amounting to years, the Assembly is convinced that young asylum seekers should be given the opportunity to use this period to devote themselves to fundamental activities such as learning and the improvement of their skills.

3.       Furthermore, the provision of vocational education and training would enable young asylum seekers to enter the labour market as soon as they have the legal right to do so, which would facilitate their integration in society and allow them to support themselves and their families without relying on social benefits.

4.       The Assembly therefore believes that more attention should be given to the issue of vocational education and training for the specific group of young asylum seekers in Council of Europe member states. It welcomes the initiatives taken by the European Union to promote vocational education and training for asylum seekers in the EU member states and encourages the European Union to continue this process.

5.       Bearing in mind the structural labour shortage in some economic sectors of Council of Europe member states, the Assembly believes that it is possible to devise vocational training programmes which would contribute to meeting the needs of national labour markets without provoking distortions.

6.       The Assembly therefore recommends that the Committee of Ministers:

II.       Draft order

1. The Assembly, referring to its Recommendation … (2002) on vocational training of young asylum seekers in host countries, believes that young asylum seekers are an important element of the overall human capital of the host society.

2. The Assembly notes that some economic sectors of the Council of Europe member states present a structural shortage of workforce, accompanied by unwillingness amongst citizens to take up employment in some of those sectors.

3. Thousands of asylum seekers live in Council of Europe member states, and many of them have the potential expertise and willingness to take up those positions. In most member states, however, asylum seekers face legal and practical barriers to access to the labour market, often irrespective of the length of time that the authorities take to reach a final decision on their asylum application.

4.       Therefore the Assembly instructs its Committee on Migration, Refugees and Demography to:

III.        Explanatory memorandum by Mrs Zwerver

1.        Introduction

1.       Our societies have endorsed concepts such as life long learning, continuous education, adaptability and high specialisation in order to cope with rapid technological change and increasing globalisation. The European Social Charter and the revised Social Charter codify the right to vocational guidance and training, giving a particular emphasis to the access of young people. These developments, however, do not touch migrants, and even less the particular category of young asylum seekers1.

2.       For most people, the years between the ages of 15 and 25 should be formative of their prospects for entering the labour market. Young asylum seekers, however, rarely have access to vocational education and training in the host country, a fact which impacts negatively on their future chances of finding employment.

3.        Your Rapporteur believes that the Council of Europe member states are missing the opportunity to make full use of the human capital potentially available to them. It is widely recognised that some economic sectors present a labour shortage and that citizens do not have either the expertise or the willingness to take up employment in some of those sectors. Some States have recourse to temporary work schemes, which enable immigrants to cover those positions for a temporary period and then go back to their country. It is interesting to note the contradiction between policies aimed at attracting short-term migrants to fill some positions that would not be covered otherwise, and the refusal to provide vocational education and training to young asylum seekers, who are already present in the host country and who would be happy to develop their skills and eventually cover those positions, even on a temporary basis.

4.        Your Rapporteur is aware that the refusal to provide vocational training to asylum seekers is often explained by the fact that in the vast majority of Council of Europe member states asylum seekers are not given access to employment. Another common argument is that the status of asylum seekers is a temporary one: either their application is refused, in which case they will be returned to their country of origin; or their application is accepted, and they will become refugees with subsequent access to the work market.

5.        It is a well-known fact that a decision on an asylum application may not be reached until months, if not years, after it was lodged. Most Council of Europe member states do not set a time limit for their authorities to make such a decision, with the consequence that the duration of the procedure is unpredictable. Furthermore, the status of asylum seeker can be prolonged by the process of appeal against a negative asylum decision. This appeal has suspensive effect in almost all the member States; in those few States where it does not have suspensive appeal, removal is not generally enforced if the appeal is pending. In these circumstances, your Rapporteur is convinced that young asylum seekers should be entitled to vocational education and training while their asylum application is under consideration, irrespective of the outcome of the application, from the time of admission to the asylum procedure and until appeal rights have been exhausted.

6.        The provision of vocational education and training would be extremely important for the well-being of the individual young asylum seeker: despite the length of their stay, young asylum seekers could avoid idleness and passivity and use this time to acquire skills that could give them better economic prospects in the future; the learning activity itself would make it easier for young asylum seekers to acquire familiarity with the host country and would facilitate their integration; it would also reduce the risk of mental illness and depression, to which asylum seekers are often subject by reason of their past experience of persecution. In the eventuality that the asylum application is rejected, asylum seekers are likely to have better prospects in their own countries if they have received vocational training, and this could also influence their willingness to return voluntarily.

7.        Your Rapporteur is convinced that the advantages for the individual cannot be separated from the advantages for society as a whole: the provision of vocational training would facilitate the access of asylum seekers to the labour market, with the consequence that they would not rely on social benefits to support themselves and their families and would be less inclined to fall into the arms of criminal organisations or the black market. In this sense, the provision of vocational training is a fundamental means of enhancing social cohesion.

2.       The scope of vocational education and training for asylum seekers

8.        Given the specific needs of young asylum seekers, the scope of vocational training on their behalf needs to be wider than the traditional definition. The knowledge of the language of the host country conditions access to and the success of vocational training and represents therefore an integral part of the vocational training process. Besides, vocational training for asylum seekers should include activities designed to prepare asylum seekers to enter vocational training programmes, such as how to prepare a curriculum vitæ, how to obtain recognition of diplomas/education certificates or traineeships, orientation on the requirements of the job market, etc. (so-called vocational guidance). Similarly, post-vocational training activities are a constituent part of the overall vocational training process. This includes follow-up activities to build up confidence and develop the skills required for job-searching and for ensuring good intercultural relations in the work environment.

9.       Your Rapporteur notes that international organisations have devoted limited attention to the issue of vocational education and training for young asylum seekers. In this specific matter there is a lack of co-ordination among international agencies, which focus either on vocational training without paying attention to the migration dimension, or on migrants and access to the work market, without considering the particular category of asylum seekers.

10.       The European Union represents an exception, since it funds various initiatives in this field. Of particular importance is EQUAL, a Community Initiative which provides for the development of new ways of combating all forms of discrimination and inequality as regards access to the labour market. The European Union’s contribution to this initiative amounts to 3,000 million euros for the period 2000-2006, and this sum is matched by national funding. EQUAL will finance projects addressing, among other things, the specific needs of asylum seekers as regards to the access to the labour market, including vocational training.

11.       Furthermore, the interest of the European Union in this issue is confirmed by the recent European Commission's proposal for a Council Directive laying down minimum standards on the reception of applicants for asylum in member states, which contains specific provisions on vocational training2.

3.       A preliminary issue: access to employment for asylum seekers

12.       In the majority of Council of Europe member states, access to the labour market is either forbidden or extremely restricted for those whose asylum application is under consideration. In some countries asylum seekers are allowed to work once a certain period of time has lapsed after lodging the application. For instance, in the United Kingdom asylum seekers may apply for permission to work if they have not received a decision on their asylum application within 6 months. Similarly, in Bulgaria and Switzerland asylum seekers can work if they have not received a decision within 3 months. In Sweden, asylum seekers are exempted from the requirement to hold a work permit, when justified by the fact that it will not be possible to reach an asylum decision within four months of the application. In other countries, such as Italy, France and Ireland, asylum seekers are never given permission to work, irrespective of the length of time in which they have been in the country. Finally, in those countries where asylum seekers can work, there are sometimes administrative or legal obstacles to their access to employment, as in the case of Ukraine and Russia which impose the obligation to hold a propiska.

13.       In the above mentioned Proposal for a Council Directive laying down minimum standards on the reception of applicants for asylum in member states, the European Commission refers to the issue of access to employment for asylum seekers: Member States shall be free to regulate entry to their labour market, but will not be allowed to forbid applicants and their accompanying family members to have access to the labour market for more than six months after their application has been lodged. Furthermore, access to the labour market shall not be withdrawn for the sole reason that an application has been rejected if an appeal with suspensive effect has been lodged.

14.       Your Rapporteur is aware that the issue of access to employment for asylum seekers does not fall under the scope of the present report. Nonetheless, the two issues are closely related, since the refusal to make vocational training available is often justified on the grounds that asylum seekers do not have access to the labour market. In the light of the arguments presented in the Introduction of this report, your Rapporteur believes that the provision of vocational training to young asylum seekers is advantageous to the individuals concerned and to the host country as a whole, even if asylum seekers as such do not have access to the labour market. Having said that, your Rapporteur is convinced that the refusal to enable asylum seekers to enter the labour market diminishes their dignity by imposing passivity, reducing their prospects for the future and forcing them into illegal unregulated and unprotected work.

4.       Provision of pre-vocational training (language education and vocational guidance): some examples

15.       Language education is a necessary precondition to integration, access to education and training and future access to the labour market. Your Rapporteur notes that the provision of language courses is ensured in all Council of Europe member states, even if with varying success.

16.       In Spain the Comision Española de Ayuda al Refugiado (CEAR) offers language classes free of charge to asylum seekers who are accommodated in reception centres. Other public education institutions as well as several NGOs offer Spanish language courses free of charge, which asylum seekers may attend together with refugees. Similarly, in the Czech Republic language courses are provided in refugee camps by NGOs. In Bulgaria, language courses are provided free of charge to asylum seekers and recognised refugees alike, adults or children, and organised by the National Bureau for Territorial Asylum and Refugees (NBTAR) in the reception centres of Sofia and Banja. In Estonia, despite the Refugee Law providing for Estonian language tuition for asylum seekers in reception centres, no State-funded language courses have been established. However, the Church of Whisundide, a religious organisation, delivers language courses free of charge on the premises of the reception centres, with the approval of the Ministry for Social Affairs. In Hungary there is no legal requirement to provide language tuition for asylum seekers, but some voluntary organisations provide it free of charge. In Poland language courses for asylum seekers have been set up in the refugee centres, but classes are held irregularly and the level of achievement is very low.

17.       Your Rapporteur thinks that asylum seekers should receive language training as soon as their asylum application has been recognised as admissible. Furthermore, as soon as they have an understanding of the language of the host country, asylum seekers should be given vocational guidance, namely information on how to prepare a curriculum vitæ, information on how to obtain the recognition of diplomas, educational certificates and traineeships, as well as orientation on the labour market of the host country.

18.       Vocational guidance is currently included in the vocational training programmes of a limited number of European countries. A positive example, for instance, is offered by the voluntary organisation INMERSO, operating in Madrid, Seville and Valencia (Spain), which is active in the field of vocational guidance through the work of a technical team. Among the members of this team, the ‘employment manager’ designs an individual professional itinerary, considering the skills of the asylum seeker and the work opportunities offered by the private or public sector.

19.       Your Rapporteur hopes that pre-vocational training will be systematically included in vocational training programmes for asylum seekers in all the member states and welcomes the presentation of specific projects to this effect by Sweden and the United Kingdom in the frame of the EQUAL Initiative.

20.       Your Rapporteur also notes that in many cases asylum seekers have a sound educational or professional background, but hold certificates that are not recognised by Council of Europe member states. Your Rapporteur believes that the Council of Europe should encourage further multilateral co-operation in this field, involving the International Labour Organisation (ILO) and other relevant international agencies.

5.       Common elements and specific projects relating to young asylum seekers

21.       Your Rapporteur observes that some features of the provision of vocational training courses are common to all Council of Europe member states: in all the countries where access to vocational education and training is possible, the voluntary sector plays an important if not fundamental role in their provision and organisation. As for funding, the European Union is a major source within those states which are members, while the State and UNHCR are pre-eminent in Eastern Europe. The involvement of the private sector in the form of periods of stage or traineeship is generally very limited.

22.       It is rare to find specific programmes directed specifically at young asylum seekers. Such a programme exists in Denmark, and is addressed to young asylum seekers from 17 to 23 years old. Vocational training consist of Danish and English language courses and some computer classes organised 4 times a week. The programme is funded by the Red Cross. Training is advertised by sending information to refugee centres. If the asylum application is rejected, asylum seekers have one month to finish their training, before being removed from the country. Also in Russia a special programme for young asylum seekers (from 13 to 25 years old) has been established by the NGO Memorial, with the financial support of UNHCR. The subjects of vocational training include hairdressing, sewing, handicrafts, painting porcelain, woodcarving, cookery and computer courses. These courses are advertised through community centres and UNHCR. If the asylum application is refused it is possible for participants to complete their training.

23.       More often programmes are directed to asylum seekers and refugees together. In Spain, CEAR and other NGOs organize vocational training for asylum seekers and refugees. Vocational training consists of Spanish language classes and labour market classes, where participants learn how to write a curriculum vitae and what sectors offer the best prospects of employment. In addition, asylum seekers are given training to prepare them for different occupations depending on market needs, particularly as agricultural workers, electricians and constructions. In Hungary, the organisation ‘Mahatma Gandhi’ runs language and computer classes in refugee centres which are open also to asylum seekers. In the Netherlands the Foundation for Refugee Students (UAF) supports refugees and asylum seekers during their studies by means of scholarships and contributions towards the costs of education, individual advice and guidance by student counsellors and support in finding a job. The requirements for asylum seekers to qualify for UAF support include having sufficient preparatory training to gain access to the chosen course within a year and sufficient knowledge of the Dutch language to be able to hold a conversation.

24.        Your Rapporteur hopes that the EQUAL Initiative may contribute substantially to the increase – in quality and quantity – of vocational programmes directed specifically to young asylum seekers. Several states have already proposed projects of this kind, namely Denmark, Finland, Luxembourg and the Netherlands.

6.       Conclusions and recommendations

25.       In the light of the information gathered for the preparation of this report, your Rapporteur wishes to propose a model of good practice for the elaboration of vocational education and training programmes for young asylum seekers:

Reporting committee: Committee on Migration, Refugees and Demography.

Committee for opinion: Committee on Culture, Science and Education.

Reference to committee: Doc. 7758 and Reference No. 2167 of 19 March 1997.

Draft recommendation and draft order unanimously adopted by the Committee on 8 March 2002.

Members of the committee: Mr Iwiński (Chairperson), Mr Einarsson (1st Vice-Chairperson), Mrs Vermot-Mangold (2nd Vice-Chairperson), Mrs Bušić (3rd Vice-Chairperson), Mrs Aguiar, MM. Akhvlediani, Aliyev G., Mrs van Ardenne-van der Hoeven, MM. de Arístegui (alternate: Agramunt), Arzilli, Bernik, Mrs Björnemalm, MM. Van den Brande, Branger, Brînzan, Brunhart, Christodoulides, Cilevičs, Connor, Danieli, Debarge, Dejda, Díaz de Mera, Dmitrijevas, Ehrmann, Mrs Err, Mrs Fehr (alternate: Mr Gross), Mrs Frimannsdóttir, MM. Grzesik, Grzyb, Hancock, Hordies, Hovhannisyan, Ilaşcu, Ivanov, Jařab, Lord Judd, MM. Karpov, Kirilov, Kolb, Koulouris, Kulikov, Kvakkestad, Laakso, Le Guen, Liapis, Mrs Lörcher, MM. Loutfi, Luís, Mrs Markovska, MM. Mutman, Naro (alternate: Rivolta), Nessa, Oliynyk, Mrs Onur, MM. Ouzký, Popa, Prijmireanu, Pullicino Orlando, Rogozin, Saglam, von Schmude, Schweitzer, Mrs Shakhtakhtinskaya, MM. Slutsky, Soendergaard, Mrs Stoisits, MM. Szinyei, Tabajdi, Telek, Tkáč, Udovenko, Wilkinson, Wray (alternate: Ms McCafferty), Yáñez-Barnuevo, Zavgayev, Mrs de Zulueta, Mrs Zwerver.

N.B. The names of those members present at the meeting are printed in italics.

Secretaries of the committee: Mr Lervik, Mrs Nachilo, Ms Sirtori.


1 Article 9 of the European Social Charter, identical to Article 9 of the revised Charter, reads as follows: "Everyone has the right to appropriate facilities for vocational guidance with a view to helping him choose an occupation suited to his personal aptitude and interests". Article 10 reads: "Everyone has the right to appropriate facilities for vocational training". Signatory States guarantee the rights of the European Social Charter and the revised Social Charter to their own nationals and to lawfully residing foreign nationals of the other signatory States. Therefore asylum seekers and migrants are covered by those provisions only if they are nationals of another signatory State.

2 COM (2001) 181 final of 3 April 2001. Article 14 reads as follows: "1. Member States shall not forbid applicants and their accompanying family members to have access to vocational training for more than six months after their application has been lodged. Member States shall lay down the conditions for the access to vocational training after such a period. 2. Access to vocational training shall not be withdrawn for the sole reason that an application has been rejected in an appeal with suspensive effect has been lodged or a decision has been obtained allowing the applicant to remain in the Member State in which the application has been lodged or is being examined for the time an appeal against a negative decision is examined. 3. Access to vocational training may be excluded when a negative behaviour of the applicant is ascertained, in accordance with Article 22."