Poland has been involved in the European Qualifications Passport for Refugees (EQPR) programme, which is coordinated by the Council of Europe, since May 2022. Monday’s conference in Warsaw was an opportunity to present the principles of using this international tool to help war refugees.
The EQPR is a digital certificate that can be granted to any person who has been accorded refugee status or international protection. During warfare, people fleeing from their homes often have no chance to bring with them all documents that certify their qualifications. Diplomas or training certificates seem less significant when families in conflict or disaster areas need to take what will allow them to meet their basic needs for the next few days. Only when they seek employment or wish to enter further studies at their new place of residence does it turn out that they need a document certifying their qualifications or education. This is where the European Qualifications Passport for Refugees comes into play. It is a document recognised in many of the EU member states as well as in other European countries.
“Although the European Qualifications Passport for Refugees serves a specific group of refugees – those who have lost their diplomas, certificates, or other documentary evidence of education – behind each such situation is the personal story of an individual. And we believe that in such extraordinary moments, it is not statistics but helping specific people that makes deep, humanistic sense. Because all law should be made for people”, says Dawid Kostecki, Director General of the Polish National Agency for Academic Exchange NAWA. “This is how we understand the concept of global sustainable development, and we are happy to share this vision with such a large group of both Polish and international partners”, he adds.
The story of the EQPR begins in 2016, when a wave of emigrants escaping the war in Syria arrived in Europe. At this point, particularly valuable were the actions taken in Greece; they became one of foundations of the common instrument for the recognition of qualifications. From the perspective of several years, we can acknowledge the significance of that experience.
“Today we know that recruitment agencies, employers, officials, and representatives of the authorities – both local and state – all these bodies at various levels serve to integrate the refugees into the labour market. The EQPR is a helpful tool for all of them. It makes it possible to treat refugees as a valuable contribution to social development”, says Marina Malgina from the Council of Europe. “The idea here is inclusiveness. We want to support this human hope, so that refugees can join normal life”, she adds.
It should be noted that the document remains valid for five years, and since it is issued by the Council of Europe, the holder does not need to have it recognised in the subsequent places of stay. These features render the EQPR a strong tool of not only help, but also international cooperation. Suffice it to say that it implements the provisions of the Lisbon Recognition Convention.
The conference prepared by NAWA was an opportunity to present the perspectives of how EQPR works in various countries. Bessy Athanasopoulou, Director of the Information Department of DOTAP, the Greek ENIC-NARIC, talked about the experience of actions involving the EQPR in Greece, and Hélène Bekker, Director of the Department of Diploma Recognition of FEI, shared the French experience. The idea behind a European qualifications passport was discussed also by Council of Europe representative Samir Heco.
“It is worth emphasising that the point is not to compete with the existing legal solutions in a specific country, but to incorporate the passport into the system”, Samir Heco remarked.
Data about the current situation of refugees in Poland were presented by Katarzyna Oyrzanowska, integration expert at the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) Poland. She underlined that, of all the refugees in Poland:
87% have been separated from their families;
93% are women;
53% have completed higher education;
74% used to be employed;
12% are pensioners;
71% wish to stay in the host country.
A total of approximately seven million refugees from Ukraine have been registered all across Europe since 24 February 2022.
“These are huge numbers. The highest in Europe since World War II”, explains Katarzyna Oyrzanowska, integration expert at the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) Poland. “The European Qualifications Passport for Refugees is a step towards a full inclusion of refugees. We are happy that this is happening in Poland, too”, she adds.
It should be noted that the Polish National Agency for Academic Exchange is an institution whose actions have been determined by the situation around the globe from its very inception. Guided by a sense of not only solidarity, but also of responsibility for the international situation of the scientific environment and the academic community, we react almost immediately as soon as we become aware of dangers. This was the case when the pandemic broke out and when repressions against students and scholars in Belarus began in the aftermath of the undemocratic presidential elections, and this is the case now. When the war in Ukraine began, several million refugees – including a significant group related to the academia – crossed the Polish border. They found themselves in a completely new situation, and the magnitude of the phenomenon exceeded all expectations. And NAWA, together with the Polish academia, rushed to help right away. As part of a government initiative, the “Solidarity with Ukraine” programme was prepared to help students and doctoral candidates from across our eastern border to continue their studies, work on their dissertations, or pursue other forms of education at Polish universities and institutes between March and September 2022. The results of the call for applications were announced as early as 28 April 2022, only two months after the outbreak of the war.
Importantly, 98 universities and research institutes submitted applications for funding, and all were successful. The amount of financial resources granted from the budgets of the Ministry of Education and Science and the Ministry of Health was more than PLN 23 million.
In addition, NAWA has provided help in many other fields. We knew from the outset that this emergency situation posed new challenges not only in the field of academic life.
“The wave of refugees means a virtually enormous number of enquiries about the diplomas of Ukrainian universities and their equivalents in Poland or Europe. This is important for universities, but also for employers. Evidencing education and academic qualifications has become a pressing need. That is why NAWA held webinars in April and May to provide information on this very topic”, says Hanna Reczulska, Director of the NAWA Department for Academic Recognition.
The EQPR offers great opportunities, but in order to use them properly, knowledge and cooperation are necessary. That is why a conference was prepared in cooperation with the Council of Europe. Participants from both academia and the employers’ environment were able to find out what the EQPR is and how it works, as well as how it is used in other countries. This is intended to provide inspiration for finding a place for the passport in Polish procedures requiring documentation of education. In order to give all interested parties the opportunity to participate, the event was held in both a face-to-face and online format.
In addition to the conference, meetings with refugees who want to apply for the European Refugee Qualification Passport were held for the first time in Poland. Four interested persons were interviewed by experts at NAWA headquarters in Warsaw and online.