On International Migrants Day, Education International reaffirms its commitment to defend and promote the rights of migrant workers and refugees as well as migrant and refugee teachers and education personnel.

Education International (EI) and Global Unions call on Governments to ratify and implement United Nations (UN), International Labour Organisation (ILO) conventions and other international instruments to protect migrant workers’ rights and, especially, their right to join and form trade unions.

The recent adoption of the Global Compact for Safe, orderly and Regular Migration at the Intergovernmental Conference in Morocco on 10-11 December was a ground-breaking agreement in international migration governance. This agreement is not legally binding, but provide a framework for international cooperation on migration. In addition, there is a Global Compact on Refugees, which does not replace the 1951 UN Refugee Convention or the 1967 Protocol on Refugees.

Ensuring migrants’ access to quality public services

“Education Is an important in the new Global Compact for Migration, and so are the other human rights of migrants,” EI General Secretary David Edwards highlighted, also insisting on the importance of a whole-of-society approach to migration at local and national levels.

Edwards also underlined that host and transit countries should ensure migrants’ access to quality public services, in particular, their access to quality public education regardless of their migration status: “We should make our education systems, schools and all education institutions more inclusive, sensitive and responsive to the needs of migrant children and youth. Governments need to ensure that the curriculum and learning materials reflect the ever increasing diversity of the student population, and are developed with the full involvement of educators and their unions. Furthermore, Governments should work, in cooperation with education unions, to enable the recognition of the qualifications of migrant and refugee teachers.”

Addressing the root causes of migration and displacement

Noting that “the Global Compact offers a much-needed encouragement for Member States to work with other nations, the UN, trade unions, civil society organisations and others, to tackle the pressing challenges related to international migration,” Edwards stressed that this agreement “provides an opportunity for the UN and governments to address the root causes of migration and displacement. The UN, its agencies and governments need to prevent and tackle conflict head on; to combat conflict, violence, poverty, climate change and its devastating consequences on the environment and human life; and to deal with economic inequities within and across countries and regions.”

Edwards added that, “ensuring peace and political stability and improving socio-economic conditions in home countries will make migration an option rather a necessity for millions of people on the move. Let’s remember that people have the freedom to move and the right to migrate, but shouldn’t be forced to do so by circumstances beyond their control.”

Making a real difference in the lives of migrant workers on the ground

Finally, the EI leader acknowledged that “the ultimate measure of the success of the Global Compact will be whether it makes a real difference in the lives of migrant workers on the ground by ensuring freedom of association, their rights to form and join trade unions, to social protection and to engage in collective bargaining.  Through their unions and communities, many migrant workers will continue to organise and mobilise. The Global Compact should be supportive as a vehicle to promote decent work, economic and social justice.”


The global trade union movement has criticised 13 governments that have confirmed that they will not sign the historic Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration (GCM). Rather than contribute to resolving the pressing issues connected with migration and moving towards coherence and global governance of migration, they have preferred to use the Compact as an opportunity to appeal to nationalist and extremist anti-migrant sentiment.

The Council of Global Unions (CGU), grouping Global Unions representing sectoral and professional unions and trade union national centres, in a statement, maintains that as migration is, by its nature, a cross-border phenomenon, it requires cross-border cooperation.

The CGU points out that, “Migration is not a crisis. It is the governance of migration that has become a crisis”. It also argues that an important way to reduce the pressure of migration is to address the reasons that force people to leave their homelands. These include extreme poverty, wars and other violent conflicts, and the impact of global warming. Both migration and its causes require coordinated global action.

Speaking to the intergovernmental conference that adopted the Global Compact on Migration, Education International Senior Coordinator Dennis Sinyolo said, “Now more than ever before, the international community must come together to deal with the scourge of xenophobia and racism, and to make our societies, workplaces, schools and, and indeed all institutions and services truly inclusive and welcoming to migrants and refugees. After all, there is no race but the human race; not your country and our country, but our planet together.”   

The countries that have confirmed their refusal to sign the pact are: Austria, Australia, Bulgaria, Chile, Croatia, Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Israel, Poland, Slovakia, and the United States. In many countries where leaders have taken the ”risk” of being responsible, they are being attacked by the Extreme Right and nationalist populists based on misinformation and disinformation.

The Secretary-General of the UN, António Guterres, in his opening remarks on 10 December to the gathering in Marrakesh, Morocco to approve the Compact and send it to the UN General Assembly denounced the distortion of the contents and purposes of the Compact. He spoke of several myths, including the idea that the Compact, which is not a treaty,  would undermine national sovereignty.

Guterres explained that, “the Compact only reaffirms that migrants should enjoy human rights, and independently of their status.” He added, “it would be ironic if, on the day we commemorate the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, we would consider that migrants are to be excluded from the scope of the Declaration.”

After arguing that the Compact is a valuable framework for further international cooperation on migration, the Secretary-General concluded, “Let’s work together for a safer, less fearful and more prosperous future both for our own societies and for the world’s migrants. That means for us all.”

Education International General Secretary David Edwards, referring to the CGU statement,  stated, “we join in asking member organisations to urge governments that have rejected the Compact to reconsider their positions, support the Compact, and participate in its follow-up.”

Edwards also argued that, “as education trade unionists, we need to defend the decision of those governments that signed the Compact against campaigns of lies and distortions designed to create fear of and hostility towards migrants for short-term political ends. The generation of hatred of  migrants is the cutting edge of the authoritarian assault on our democracies”.

Education International has developed a new toolkit for educators and education unions who work with migrant and refugee children to make the right to quality education a reality for all. 

Education unions are defending the right to learn and to teach of newcomers. They develop advocacy to promote more inclusive schools in the context of increasingly diverse communities and in reaction to the rise of populist anti-immigration political forces. These strategies and practical actions are now compiled in a new toolkit by Education International (EI). The aim of the publication is to give practitioners concrete, hands-on recommendations and advice that will help them contribute to making education more inclusive and an effective right for all children.  

The toolkit will be presented today in Paris, France, on the occasion of the launch of the new UNESCO Global Education Monitoring Report that in this edition focuses on the right of migrants and refugees to inclusive quality education. 

Sharing best practices 

The publication builds upon activities developed by EI and affiliates, with support from the Open Society Foundations (OSF), in the context of a multiyear project on the right to education of refugees and migrants. These experiences have allowed education unions to develop their work in this domain, inspire each other and explore synergies across borders and with like-minded partners. 

Consisting of an introduction to the topic and three different chapters, the toolkit will allow educators, support personnel and union activists to design a plan to include migrants and refugees, advocate for their rights, and empower and support school communities to address diversity. The toolkit provides a solid knowledge base and concrete tools to:   

  • understand the phenomenon of migration and forced displacement worldwide and the challenges it poses in relation to the education sector, 
  • understand and defend refugees’ and migrants’ rights in education as protected by international, regional and national law, 
  • develop activities in favour of migrants and refugees’ rights at national and local levels and  
  • challenge the predominant negative narrative about migration and refugees. 

The toolkit is part of a wider strategy to help educators be informed and act on the inclusion of refugees into the education system.

Education International welcomed the focus of this year's Global Education Monitoring report "Migration, displacement and education: Building bridges not Walls", showing the importance of addressing issues related to migration, displacement and education in order to achieve the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development’s commitment to leave no one behind. Bringing together the agenda of the New York Declaration for refugees and migrants and that of SDG 4, the report provides a valuable resource to transform commitments into action and hold governments accountable for fulfilling the right to education of migrant and refugee populations.

Taking a broad approach to the definitions of migration and displacement, the report provides an understanding of the phenomenon and its complex interactions with education. By doing so, it makes a strong case for setting up comprehensive and context-relevant policy frameworks and monitoring mechanisms, involving all concerned stakeholders.

As the report rightly recognizes, teachers and education support personnel are on the front line of diverse educational contexts. Considering the many activities developed by education unions worldwide to promote the rights of migrant and refugee teachers and students and build inclusive educational settings, the report asserts that education staff and their organizations should be given a centre stage in the development and implementation of education and migration policies.
The findings of the report show that access to education remains a major concern, especially for displaced populations. The report argues that governments should identify and remove administrative barriers and regulations that directly or indirectly restrict migrants and forcibly displaced persons’ education opportunities. In particular, it criticises the detention of migrant minors and youth, a concern EI has been raising over the years.

The report makes it very clear that treating migrants and refugees differently is wrong and rightly points out the many dimensions of exclusion, including geographical segregation, separation in preparatory courses, early tracking and channelling of migrants into different school types, misdiagnosis of special education needs. It is thus important that educational authorities tackle multifaceted discrimination facing migrants and refugees in education.
Of particular importance is the report’s bold step to bring to the fore the prejudice and discrimination faced by migrant, refugee and other minority teachers. These issues should be confronted and addressed head-on in order to make schools and all education institutions inclusive.

Considering the benefits associated with teacher diversity  in relation to migrant students’ achievement, self-esteem and sense of safety, the recognition of prior qualifications and professional experience of migrant and refugee education staff should be addressed by governments as a matter of priority and in close collaboration with unions. More broadly and beyond bilateral/multilateral qualifications recognition agreements, the development of systematic and individualized assessment of migrants’ educational background and competences, even in absence of documentation, should be promoted.

Available evidence analysed in the report stresses the important role of education with regards to helping migrants and refugees integrate and develop their full potential, but also more broadly, building inclusive societies. Yet, many teachers and education personnel feel ill-equipped to address diversity in their classrooms and schools. It is urgent to increase support for both teaching and administrative staff through pre- and in-service training aiming to develop the skills and approaches they need to accommodate diversity and integrate newcomers, as well as provide them appropriate resources to fulfil their mission (curricula and pedagogical material). In many countries, education unions have developed a valuable experience in terms of transforming schools into welcoming environments, through supporting staff peer-learning and a 360-degree approach to integration. As the report underlines, putting in place the extra support measures needed to meet these challenges requires that governments and donors significantly increase and improve funding channels to schools and education systems enrolling significant numbers of migrants and refugees.


By Dr. Marguerite Lukes, Director of Research and Innovation at Internationals Network for Public Schools and part-time faculty at New York University.

I arrived in Bremen on a flight from New York City on a gloomy late September day in 2018, not quite sure what to expect.   Having been awarded a Fulbright Scholar Research and Teaching grant, I was to spend 8 weeks away from my familiar New York City streets to learn how Bremer schools, teachers and teacher educators are educating the growing numbers of new immigrant school-age students. I knew where I was staying, what day my class started, but little else, other than I was to say “moin moin” and not simply “moin,” if I wanted to fit in.

One of my initial surprises is how I am constantly corrected -- I have learned that in Germany there is one right way and many wrong ways. In that vein, when I talk about Germany’s history of taking in immigrants, laypeople who are not involved in the daily workings of schools remind me “No, this is the first time that we have immigrants in our schools.”  That assertion is perplexing, especially as I wander the city streets in the Northern German towns that I have visited and see a vast heterogeneity of faces and languages and skin colours.  The man who runs the Döner shop that I frequent is a multilingual Bremer old-timer who wears his green-white scarf unapologetically both on game days and off. Perhaps the corrections are meant in comparison? The US, despite growing xenophobia and anti-immigrant hate crimes, has always defined itself as “a nation of immigrants,” although headlines make clear that, despite its heterogeneity, the US has not been entirely successful in addressing diversity or in developing a national embrace of pluralism. Still, it has been important for me to highlight also that in many schools and districts in the US, there are growing numbers of multilingual immigrant students who are new to the English language -- in some regions a growth of 200%-300%. This is relevant because in both Germany and in the US, teachers are grappling equally with ways to address the needs of students who are adjusting to a new school system, a new language, and a new environment -- and at that, sometimes a hostile one.

Colleagues from the GEW have been extremely gracious, and I have had the opportunity to visit schools in Bremen, Bremerhaven, and Dresden, and to talk with teachers, school administrators, and students. I’ve seen a range of approaches, differences in resources, differing expectations and school cultures.  

Some examples I have seen that have stood out include teachers working together collaboratively to plan and problem-solve to design engaging materials for their recently arrived students. I have seen differentiated texts and activities designed to meet the needs of students at different levels. Teachers have stopped and shifted direction in a lesson to take advantage of ‘teachable moments,’ like an impromptu geography lesson. I’ve seen “peer mentoring” programs where German-born students are paired with new immigrant students and plans for school outings that include trips to the theater, the museum, the carnival, picnics, family nights.

Overall, what has been clarifying and heartening is the importance of coalition work -- through the GEW I have met countless creative and tireless colleagues who are working across institutions and regions to develop creative solutions for transnational, multilingual students in these shifting and troubled times.  I’ve attended meetings, been invited to open forums, participated in honest dialogue.  Notable have been the vibrant collaborative partnerships of colleagues from social work, teaching, community-based organizations working together into well past quitting time to explore what works and how to improve situations for students and teachers.   Some key elements have emerged for me among the exchange, and these include the following:

  • Leadership is key to success in schools.  School-wide commitment to new immigrant multilingual students with emerging German skills is foundational for the important collaborative work of educating a new generation of citizens.  This leadership does not always need to come from “the top” in the form of a state policy or a principal’s directive but often comes from GEW members in the workplaces. The best examples of pedagogy I have observed have been rooted in schools where the entire school community exhibits a desire for success for all students who attend, and all students, regardless of their backgrounds, feel part of the work of co-creating learning.
  • The path to success is paved with trial, error and collegial exchange:  the GEW’s Arbeitskreis model I observed in Bremen and Saxony of colleagues working together holds great promise, as it is a safe, non-evaluative space for learning, problem-solving, exchanging best practices.  These working groups exhibit pragmatic professional commitment to sharing what works extends beyond the schoolhouse doors and across regions.
  • Resources matter:  Teachers want parity and security in order to go about their daily work with ease.  They need books, tools and effective strategies that have been vetted by colleagues, classroom-based examples of what works. They want opportunities to meet together, learn from each other, take students on trips, and time to meet with families. Scarcity threatens quality, student success, and professional well-being.
  • Commitment to equity for all students requires trust, flexibility and the ability to examine who is successful and why.

Bremen gets dark and gloomy in November, but people do not retreat inside, instead donning hats, gloves, those impossibly bulky German handknit scarves and cycling to their duties. And thus the collaborative creative work of educators continues, and it reflects great promise. The collaborative work of professionals who are undaunted by the challenges they face and manage to identify and learn from success are forging a path toward equity.