fbpx


Iraq Joins Nations Issuing Qualifications Passports for Refugee Students

/ 19 Aug 2021

Iraq Joins Nations Issuing Qualifications Passports for Refugee Students

Four years ago, Asef Iyad Abu Saab, a 29-year-old Syrian, obtained a religious visa to visit Najaf in Iraq, hoping to travel from there to Europe to complete his university studies. Instead, he found himself stuck in Iraq working in a restaurant.

A third-year dentistry student at the University of Aleppo, Abu Saab had no hope of graduating in war-torn Syria. But his life has now changed, thanks to a United Nations initiative supported by Iraq and Norway.

“I traveled to Iraq in the hope of reaching Europe to complete my education and start a new life. However, that was not possible, so I started working,” he said. “When I learned about the opportunity to complete my education and obtain an equivalent for my diploma, I immediately applied and obtained a qualifications passport.”

The Unesco Qualifications Passport for Refugees and Vulnerable Migrants is designed to enable host countries to validate refugees’ academic credentials and thus improve their access to higher education and work. The concept was first tested in Norway five years ago, and Iraq is now the first Arab country to issue the passports. (See a related article, “Norway Develops ‘Qualifications Passport’ for Refugees.”)

“When I learned about the opportunity to complete my education and obtain an equivalent for my diploma, I immediately applied and obtained a qualifications passport.”

Asef Iyad Abu Saab   A Syrian dentistry student now stranded in Iraq

The passports provide a complete report of a student’s academic achievements, based on an assessment of available documents (certificates, original transcripts, copies or photographs of documents), as well as the results of a structured interview into claims that are not supported by documents. If the claims are substantiated, the refugee obtains a document stating his or her highest academic level, language proficiency and relevant experience and skills.

Abu Saab’s document records his study of dentistry at the University of Aleppo and the grades he got in each subject. It also states that he passed an interview with professors teaching the subjects he studied and lists the names of his professors and colleagues at the University of Aleppo.

Expansion to Iraq

Norway started issuing its Qualifications Passport for Refugees in 2016, and the concept was soon taken up by other European countries, including Italy, Greece and Belgium.

A pilot project to expand the program to Iraq was completed this year, under the supervision of Iraq’s Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research, Unesco, the Norwegian Agency for Quality Assurance in Education (Nokut), and UNHCR, the United Nations’ refugee agency. In May, the Iraqi project granted its first qualifications passports to 21 Syrian student out of 26 applicants.

“Finally, I will fulfill my desire to study economics.”

Badr Majed   A Syrian refugee who obtained a qualifications passport in Iraq

The latest UNHCR figures show that only 3 percent of refugees around the world are enrolled in higher education. Most face a challenge in getting their qualifications and certificates recognized, which prevents them from completing higher education or obtaining suitable employment in host countries.

According to UNHCR, Iraq is home to more than 283,000 refugees, including 242,000 Syrian refugees (the other 40,000 are mostly Turks, Iranians, Palestinians and Sudanese). Women constitute 48 percent of the refugees in Iraq and children 42 percent. More than 90 percent of Syrian refugees live in the Kurdistan region of Iraq, and 40 percent of them live in 10 refugee camps.

Badr Majed, a 23-year-old Syrian from As-Suwayda Governorate, graduated from high school but was unable to study economics at Damascus University, his life dream. He preferred to study journalism to avoid doing military service in Syria, but soon traveled to Iraq where he obtained a Qualifications’ Passport. “Finally, I will fulfill my desire to study economics,” he said.

Obstacles for Refugees

Eighty countries have ratified Unesco’s Recognition Agreements, which include a commitment to fair, transparent and non-discriminatory recognition of refugees’ qualifications even in the absence of documentary evidence. But higher-education institutions often lack the tools to assess and verify refugees’ qualifications. (See a related article, “New Syrian Refugees in Iraq Struggle to Access Education.”)

Iyad Abu Saab (at right) hopes to obtain a full scholarship so he can resume his studies in Iraq (Photo courtesy of Unesco).
Iyad Abu Saab (at right) hopes to obtain a full scholarship so he can resume his studies in Iraq (Photo courtesy of Unesco).

“In our experience, refugees face a number of obstacles in addition to the common recognition problem such as differences in curricula, degrees and educational systems in different countries,” said Andreas Snildal, a senior program officer with Unesco.

“Refugees, who were often forced to leave their homes in a hurry, lack official documents of their qualifications,” Snildal said. “However, even when their educational documents are complete, it can be difficult to verify the authenticity of documents issued in conflict areas, where educational institutions may be closed or difficult to contact.”

Since 2016, Nokut, Norway’s education quality assessment agency, has played a pivotal role in the development of the passport. It also worked on eliminating those obstacles, using its interview assessment methodology to validate refugee degrees.

“Given the situation of refugees in the Middle East, we will also consider expanding this pilot program to other countries in the region.”

Andreas Snildal   A senior program officer with Unesco

“The agency contributes to training and capacity building in the evaluation methodology, and participates in all assessment sessions as accredited and trained evaluators who are able to verify documents and provide assistance to refugees,” said Marina Malgina, head of the agency’s Interview-Based Evaluations section.

Malgina believes that accurate and timely assessment of refugees’ qualifications, even for cases that cannot be properly documented, can be the starting point for facilitating their integration into their host communities.

Empowering Refugees

Snildal says results so far are promising and show that the project can be a practical tool, both for refugees seeking higher education and for recognition bodies and admissions offices.

“We have issued nearly 582 passports in Europe, and have approved 21 of the 24 applications submitted to us in Iraq,” he said. “At least 11 of them had received full scholarships in Italian universities through the European Qualifications Passport for Refugees.”

An official in Iraq’s Ministry of Higher Education who asked to remain anonymous said UNESCO and UNHCR are working on identifying scholarship opportunities for qualifications passport holders, in cooperation with Al-Iraqia University, the American University of Iraq – Baghdad and the UNHCR’s Albert Einstein German Academic Refugee Initiative (DAFI). There are also talks about the possibility to use the qualifications passport in the Iraqi Kurdistan region.

“Given the situation of refugees in the Middle East, we will also consider expanding this pilot program to other countries in the region,” Snildal added.

“The qualifications passport is still not recognized as an Iraqi official document until now, and it will not be a substitute for official documents.”

Nizar Saadi Dhaher   ِِA project coordinator at the Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research in Iraq

Still, Nizar Saadi Dhaher, a project coordinator at the Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research in Iraq, explains that the approval of cooperation with Unesco was conditional on not giving any obligations to the ministry because the project is still in its experimental stage.

“The qualifications passport is still not recognized as an Iraqi official document until now, and it will not be a substitute for official documents. Therefore, refugee students must obtain official documents to be accepted into Iraqi universities or to complete their studies here,” he said.

[Enjoying this article? Subscribe to our free newsletter.]

Abu Saab says Unesco has promised him a year-long scholarship to study English at the American University of Iraq–Baghdad, but he is afraid of being unable to reconcile work and study requirements.

“They recognized the certificate and I hope it will not take long to get a scholarship,” he said. “I have growing fears of not being able to balance studies and workloads, because I do not have the luxury to quit my job.”

Majed also dreams of completing his studies in commerce and economics through a full scholarship. “I must continue working to help my family back in Syria,” he said. “I also want to attend university while avoiding the possibility of affecting my work and my hopes for a better future.”




No CommentsJoin the Conversation

What Others are Readingالأكثر قراءة

Copyright © 2018 Al-Fanar Mediaحقوق © 2018 الفنار للإعلام

arabic

Copyright © 2018 Al-Fanar Mediaحقوق © 2018 الفنار للإعلام