Migrants must be included in education counselling, to provide guidance on adult education offers. / Photo: Ryan Scott

Validation is a question of identity – political and economic refugees in Slovenia

Validation of refugees' prior learning is an identity question, making their competences and culture "visible" in the new home country, argues researcher Natalija Vrečer

Since the autumn of 2015 more than a million refugees and economic migrants have arrived to European countries. (Carnegie Europe) Approximately 500,000 of them came to Slovenia that year, however, most of them were merely passing through because of the scarcity of jobs. (Milharčič, Vižintin, Vrečer, 2016). Mainly for this reason only 277 asylum seekers decided to apply for asylum in Slovenia in 2015. (Ministry of the Interior, 2016)

Although refugees and economic migrants wish to contribute economically to receiving states, they are sometimes not perceived as economic, cultural and social capital, but merely “taking other people’s jobs” or “wanting to live on social benefits”. Therefore, the public discourse in Slovenia, as in much of Europe, has been divided between the “pro and contra” camps. Demonstrations have been organized separately by members of both groups in different Slovene towns and cities.

Pro-refugees demonstrations in Kranj in March, 2016. Photo: Natalija Vrečer 

Implications for adult education

It is important for adult education to respond immediately to the current refugee situation. Its task is, among other things, to provide educational programmes, which are necessary to enhance the integration process. Participation in educational programmes can provide refugees and economic migrants with necessary knowledge of the culture of the receiving country and other competences.

Integration, however, is a two-way process and it is efficient if refugees and migrants adapt to other members of the receiving country, and if the latter adapt to refugees and economic migrants, too.

Migrants acquire new cultural and other types of knowledge and competences in non-formal and formal education, as well as through informal learning in their everyday lives. For this reason it is important that refugees do not live marginalized in separate housing, but independently, so that they can also socialize – besides with members of their ethnic group – with other members of the receiving society.

Availability of education breeds motivation

Although motivation for learning and integration also depends on the inner characteristics of an adult learner, in the case of refugees, it depends to a great extent on the availability of educational programmes for learning the language of the receiving country and the conditions and possibilities for integration, such as the possibility of obtaining refugee status with all the rights and obligations which are connected to it – or at least the possibilities for long-term residence.

An analysis of educational needs of Afghan refugees in Slovenia, (ten interviews were made in November and December 2013 and in April 2016) revealed that those refugees who are granted a more permanent status are more motivated to learn the language of the receiving society, because they know they have a possibility to stay and become integrated into Slovenia (Vrečer, 2013). The possibility of being granted refugee status thus functions as a motivational lever for many refugees to enrol in educational programmes, because they are aware that they need new cultural and other competences in order to become integrated.

An example of this is the educational programme “Early integration of migrants”, which is being implemented in 28 Slovene cities and towns and which is aimed at newcomers. Refugees and especially economic migrants have been highly motivated to attend this free of charge programme as it offers them contents connected to everyday life, such as education, work (writing CVs, application for jobs etc.), health, social services, Slovene constitution, history, culture and economics.

The research on educational needs of migrants by Vrečer et al. (2008) in which 110 economic migrants and former refugees from ex-Yugoslavia were interviewed, revealed that it is important that educational programmes are free of charge at least for the most vulnerable groups of migrants and refugees with modest means, such as the elderly, unemployed refugees and migrants, refugees with special needs etc.

In order to overcome other institutional obstacles to the participation in educational programmes, the most vulnerable refugees also need free transport to classes and free courses and materials, Especially the unemployed and the most vulnerable refugees need versatile offers of programmes due to different educational needs of refugees. In order to overcome situational obstacles, it is important that the programmes are available when refugees have spare time. If programmes take place during work hours they need kindergarten services. Finally, to overcome dispositional obstacles, the receiving country should encourage the refugees’ motivation for learning in the receiving country, especially for learning the language of the receiving country.

Besides their participation in the educational programmes, it is important that refugees and economic migrants become included in the processes of guidance counselling, so that they are supported during this process with the adequate information on adult education offers, and that they can become (re)included in formal and non-formal education as soon as possible after their arrival, and that they can achieve personal growth (see Vilič Klenovšek, 2015, in Vrečer, 2015).

Validation is an identity question

Some of the refugees had to flee in haste in order to save their lives, and some of them were not able to bring their documents, certificates and diplomas with them. The inclusion of those refugees into the process of identification, validation and recognition of formal, non-formal and informal learning provides them with the recognition of their knowledge, competence and skills.

At the end of this process, refugees and economic migrants as well as all other participants in the process get certificates. The latter enable the participants of the validation process to become more easily included in the labour market, in addition to other numerous benefits (see more information on the phases of the validation process in Vilič Klenovšek, Pavlič, ed., 2013).

The recognition of skills is one of the important benefits of the validation process. However, Charles Taylor (1992) claims that recognition is not important for people only because they deserve that we respect them, but recognition also represents a basic human need. As Taylor says, recognition is needed for the construction of our own identities, because in order to be truly aware of ourselves, we need to be recognized by others, too. If we as human beings are not recognized in an adequate way that can result in human costs, because our image and identity will be damaged.

According to the same author, recognition is also needed in order for a person to feel her/his authenticity in herself/himself (Taylor 1992). If we paraphrase Taylor (1992), in the process of the validation and recognition of non-formal and informal learning, counsellors assist the participant to unravel her/his tacit knowledge, competences and skills, and thus participants discover their true self and thus their authenticity.

The concept of authenticity is related to the concept of identity. The identities of refugees and economic migrants are sometimes not fully recognized at their arrival, because the identities were constructed in the country of origin and bear different cultural knowledge. In the validation process, the knowledge of the migrant and the culture of his or her country of origin becomes more visible and thus present to the participant, guidance counsellor, and to the other members of receiving countries including employers.

In this way, the inclusion of economic migrants and refugees into the validation and recognition process of formal, non-formal and informal learning enhances not only the (re)constructions of their identities in the receiving states, but their wider integration into those states (Vrečer et al. 2015).


“Refugee” – a complex concept
Who are refugees? According to the Article 1 of the Convention of a status of a refugee from 1951 and the New York Protocol from 1967 (the so called Geneva Convention), a refugee is a person who experienced a well-founded fear of persecution due to his or her ethnicity, political opinion, belonging to a social group or a religion etc.
Many refugees experienced deaths of their relatives beside the fact that their own life was threatened. Liisa Malkki (1995) emphasizes that refugees were persons who experienced various losses in the short period of time (Malkki, 1995) and that is where they differ from economic migrants. Namely, refugees experienced fear, and bereavement, a change of social and economic status, and they had to learn a new language, changed social networks, and had to adapt to the new culture of the receiving country, while economic migrants experienced fewer losses in the short run, although many of them also had to learn a new language, changed social networks, had to adapt to the new culture of the receiving country etc.
However, we can assume that the losses of the economically most disadvantaged migrants are greater than those of economically less disadvantaged migrants, because people who live below the poverty line experience various psychological and social costs due to economic hardship. Sometimes their lives could be threatened due to poverty. Therefore we can assume that they are economically persecuted, some deciding to flee to the receiving country.
There have been some attempts to develop the definition of a refugee, however, such attempts have not yet been fulfilled in legislation. Arthur Helton (1999), for example, developed the definition of a refugee in his proposal of the definition of a forced migrant in a way that the latter encompasses not only persecution due to political reasons, which he subsumes under “risk to physical security associated with armed conflict” but also “risk to physical security associated with violations of basic human rights, discrimination, or persecution”.
However, among other causes of displacement, he also enumerates humanitarian reasons arising out of previous persecution, or illness, as well as “the risk to physical security associated with environmental catastrophe or ecological causes” etc. (Helton, 1999, in Helton and Nagy, p. 230).
In the times of the current refugee situation, we could also add to this definition that the term forced migrant shall also encompass those who flee “due to economic persecution” and this shall refer to those people who live below the poverty line. That means that a status of a forced migrant shall also be granted to those who flee due to economic reasons, but only to those whose economic standard is below the poverty line due to the scarcity of economic resources of current states and due to the fact that those who live below the poverty line could be considered economically persecuted.





This article is dedicated to the memory of prof. dr. Arthur C. Helton, a human rights professor of legal studies, who wrote the definition of forced migrant and presented it in the material for the Summer School Human Rights and Forced Displacement, July, 1999 at the Central European University, Budapest. The summer school was organized by prof. dr. Arthur C. Helton together with prof. dr. Boldizsar Nagy.


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