(This article is one of two in a package. The other is “Volunteers Find Rewards in Helping Refugee Students in France.”)
LILLE, France—Riaz Ahmad had no intention of going to France. The round-faced 29-year-old fled his home in northwest Pakistan after the local Taliban threatened to kill him if he didn’t work secretly for them in his job with a nongovernmental organization.
His destination was Britain. But after ending up in “the Jungle,” a sprawling refugee encampment in Calais, in northwestern France, and injuring himself trying to jump on the back of a truck headed to England, he enrolled at France’s largest university, the University of Lille, in 2016, in a new program to admit refugees.
Now in his final year of an undergraduate program in mass communications, Ahmad still struggles with French but sees a bright future for himself in his adoptive country. “Sometimes I record the lectures and listen again and again after class,” he says. “My fellow students are very nice; they always try to explain the lessons to me.”
Successful Preparation Programs
Approximately 2,000 asylum-seekers are currently enrolled in special programs in France, like the one that Ahmad went through, to prepare them for university studies. The programs were created by half of the country’s roughly 80 public universities, including nearly all the major institutions, after the huge influx of migrants to Europe in 2015 and 2016.
University officials say these programs have been largely successful for two reasons.
First, admissions standards are strict: Refugee applicants must have roughly the same academic qualifications as French applicants, even if considerable flexibility is allowed in documenting high school or higher-education diplomas from their home countries. (When documents are missing, or from academically weak regions, students can take tests to determine their academic level).