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Refugees bring with them skills, qualifications and experience – including in the medical field. This has been frequently stated but requires proactive acknowledgement and enhanced integration measures. In the context of the coronavirus pandemic, EUA’s Michael Gaebel makes the case for the recognition of qualifications.

Refugees and those in a refugee-like situations bring with them skills, qualifications and experience. Recognition of their qualifications and employment can support their integration and enable them to contribute to their host country. But can this be a priority in times of the coronavirus crisis? Some colleagues at higher education institutions apologise for not responding to a current EUA survey on researchers at risk: There is no time due to the crisis. Some even ask whether hosting researchers at risk is really the most urgent issue at present. This attitude is mirrored in EU politics: While in mid-March the EU decided to close its international borders due to the pandemic, for refugees its Southern borders closed already two weeks earlier - in breach of international law.

But this bears high risks: Refugee camps - outside and inside of the Union – could become breeding grounds for communicable diseases, including the coronavirus. Accelerated integration measures would not only mitigate such risks, but also open new opportunities for the individual refugees, and their host societies. For example, Saxony, one of the German Länders, was the first to announce a plea to foreign doctors already in the country to help. Germany’s health ministry is “(…) in the process of “investigating all possible legal options” to speed up the applications of qualified doctors, especially those who only required a medical language exam” - among them thousands of refugees who arrived during the so-called “refugee crisis” in 2015. Technically well-equipped in international comparison, the German health system experiences shortages of qualified staff. Already before Covid-19 crisis, the German Health Minister, Jens Spahn toured European Neighbourhood countries and the wider world to recruit health personnel.

Germany is no exception. The Council of Europe (CoE) and the UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, confirm that in response to the coronavirus pandemic, several of their member states are recruiting refugees with health sector skills and backgrounds. Both organisations point to the European Qualifications Passport for refugees (EQRP), a tool to provide information on qualifications that refugees already have, but cannot fully document. Marija Pejčinović Burić, CoE Secretary General, stated that the EQPR “(…) is not a substitute for the [formal recognition of] necessary professional certificates and licences, but it does help the authorities speed things up by providing some of the background needed.”

The tool helps to ensure that governments implement what they have committed to when ratifying the Lisbon Recognition Convention, which stipulates in its Article VII the recognition of qualifications of refugees and displaced persons. Whereas in 2016 only five out of 54 signatory countries could document national-level procedures for the recognition of undocumented qualifications held by refugees, this had risen to 22 countries in 2019. The current situation may give a further push. In the meantime, let’s think again: what else is urgent in this current crisis?


Since 2015, EUA together with members and partners, has called for enhanced recognition and integration of international talent, including those with refugee backgrounds. Under a Horizon 2020 funded project, “Initiative to Support, Promote and Integrate Researchers at Risk in Europe” (InspireEurope), it explores how to improve the integration of researchers at risk in academic institutions and the wider labour market. Two related surveys are open until 1 May.


Michael Gaebel

Michael Gaebel is Director of Higher Education Policy at the European University Association.

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