The plight of refugees during a pandemic

June 15, 2020
  • International
  • International Admissions
  • International Admissions and Credential Evaluation
  • International Education
  • Displaced Students
  • refugees
silhouette of a refugee family walking over hilly terrain with the text overlay: "20 June World Refugee Day"
“Collective multi-national efforts for tailoring assessment of qualifications held by refugees are needed for addressing a challenge that has drawn increasing attention internationally," note our colleagues at the The Norwegian Agency for Quality Assurance in Education (NOKUT). This effort has been a key signature initiative at AACRAO, resulting in the AACRAO Pledge for Education and the publication of the report on Inclusive Admissions Policies for Displaced and Vulnerable Students.
As we approach World Refugee Day on June 20 we have asked leaders in the space to offer a reflection on the plight of refugees in the midst of a global pandemic. We also asked them to share their efforts for assisting refugees and displaced persons.
Norwegian Agency for Quality Assurance in Education (NOKUT)
The past months of the year 2020 continue to seem surreal, as if taken from a science fiction book or a movie. Yet, the COVID 19 pandemic is real and its longer-term economic and social impacts will be lasting and deep. When trying to foresee how the ‘new normal’ will be, it is important to remind ourselves that higher education as a sectorcommand respect and represent the progressive forces in society must play a major role in helping to shape the post-COVID-19 world, by keeping in mind the aspect of social responsibility.
Solidarity, collaboration and coordinated action among various actors is becoming more important in the current situation and provides a timely opportunity to reflect about the role and the interplay of various actors at local, regional, national and international level in fostering innovation for the best of the individuals and societies. It is essential for our future that academics, university administrators, government officials, public authorities and community partners pool their resources in order to devise new policies to meet new challenges, such as providing refugees with an opportunity to have their qualifications recognized, even when these cannot be fully documented.
We have been following the expansion of the methodology developed by NOKUT, with excitement. First, the methodology of the Qualifications Passport was successfully introduced in Norway in 2016. Secondly, based on these experiences the Council of Europe introduced European Qualifications Passport for Refugees (EQPR) in 2017 and so far over 450 EQPRs have been issued. Thirdly, and as importantly, UNESCO established UNESCO Qualifications Passport in the second part of 2019.
The European Qualifications Passport for Refugees (EQPR) as well as the recommendation adopted by the Lisbon Recognition Convention Committee in 2017 are good examples of policy and practice adapted to new circumstances, and the COVID-19 pandemic makes using the medical competencies some refugees have from their home countries especially important. In many countries, there is an untapped reserve: refugees and migrants, many of them have health-related qualifications, as pointed in the Council of Europe and the UNHCR recent statement. The statement got substantial coverage in international media, including the Guardian, TIME and Le Figaro.
In cooperation with the UNHCR, the Council of Europe organized interviews of refugees with health-related qualifications in France and Italy in May and June 2020, aiming to cover all relevant qualifications. The scheme has a potential to include other countries as well. The EQPR does not offer or substitute a professional licence, but it can identify refugees qualified to assist in the current crisis and can contribute to the identification of individuals whose qualifications can then be taken into account in a professional licensing procedure.
Educational Credential Evaluators (ECE)
Displaced populations around the world are vulnerable to a host of problems. Already facing a lack of necessities like healthy food, clean water, and safe housing, as well as the scarcity of educational opportunities and reliable healthcare, the last thing refugees needed was a global pandemic like COVID-19. Now more than ever, refugees need assistance from our community of international education institutions and organizations. It is our responsibility to create more opportunities and to offer support for those most in need.



Since its inception in 2016, ECE® Aid has provided free credential evaluations to over 350 refugees and other individuals seeking further education and employment opportunities. The ripple effects are immeasurable as refugees and immigrants in the U.S. continue to provide crucial services to our communities, support for families and friends, and contribute both economically and culturally to all our daily lives.

ECE® Aid could not exist without our generous donors, as well as the continually growing list of participating organizations and educational institutions that send referrals to ECE® Aid. This initiative continues to demonstrate repeatedly the kindness and selflessness of others who believe in a more equitable and just world. I am truly inspired everyday by the generosity that I witness and could not be prouder of ECE as an organization and our staff in their support of the ECE® Aid initiative.

Academic Credentials Evaluation Institute (ACEI) 
2020 has been a challenging year, to say the least.  We are facing a global pandemic that has resulted in the shutting down of businesses, schools and universities, and civil unrest here in the U.S. and around the world, but we have remained mindful of the plight of those who have been displaced by calamities at their homelands and seeking refuge here in the U.S.  
We continue to offer our international credential evaluation services specifically designed for refugees via the Welcome Project, a joint endeavor between ACEI and iTEP.  We also work very closely with refugee resettlement organizations in the United States. Through our Global Consulting Group, we provide expert guidance to organizations and institutions that wish to explore and strengthen their diversity, inclusion and equity programs. Our work at ACEI  knows no limits and we have continued operating in full speed regardless of closures brought on by the global pandemic and recent civil unrest. Our services are needed even more during times of crisis and we feel called to help our community at the local, national and international level.
World Education Services (WES)
“WES works to ensure that international students, immigrants, and refugees can put their skills and education to use in the United States and Canada. At this moment in history, the importance of our work is clear: Refugees are disproportionately affected by racial discrimination, health care disparities, and economic instability. As a teenager, I left Sri Lanka as it descended into civil war; I arrived in the U.S. as the child of an international graduate student. I am now grateful to have the opportunity to work alongside many colleagues and partners to ensure that the immigrant and refugee individuals we serve have the tools and opportunities to integrate into their new communities. In this way, we contribute to greater racial and social justice for all.” – Esther T. Benjamin, CEO and Executive Director, World Education Services 
World Education Services (WES) uses its expertise in evaluating international educational credentials and in programming and policy work to support immigrants and refugees alike. In 2018, the organization launched the Gateway Program to help further the academic and career goals of individuals who, because of adverse circumstances in their country of education, lack standard proof of academic achievement. The program launched in Canada and provides eligible participants from seven countries -- Afghanistan, Eritrea, Iraq, Syria, Turkey, Ukraine, and Venezuela -- with a high-quality credential evaluation report that can be accepted and recognized by employers, higher education institutions, and Canadian regulatory bodies. WES is now supporting select partners to test the program in the U.S.,  in order to reduce the barriers refugees face in meeting admissions requirements at higher education institutions. WES has also provided research and training on refugee credential evaluation.   
In 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic accelerated the organization’s advocacy work on behalf of internationally trained refugees and immigrants, especially those with health care experience.  This spring, WES and its partners were successful in urging six governors to issue executive orders that adjusted licensing requirements and allowed internationally trained health care professionals to practice on a temporary basis on the front lines of the health crisis. In parallel, the organization’s philanthropic arm, the WES Mariam Assefa Fund, announced rapid response funding to support a number of organizations working directly with refugees and immigrants whose livelihoods have been affected by the pandemic.


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