The refugee situation in Slovenia: Refugees as learners
Dr. Natalija Vrečer is Head of the Research Unit on Adult Education in the Slovenian Institute for Adult Education. Here she reflects on the current situation of refugees in Slovenia.
Since the second half of 2015, approximately a million refugees arrived in European countries with Slovenia acting as a transit country for around 500.000 of them. The refugee recognition rate in Slovenia is low (approximately 40 people are granted refugee status per year), and Slovenia is not willing to accept a larger number of refugees. However, it is envisaged that in 2016 it will accept around 600 people.
In Slovenia, the average unemployment rate is relatively high (12,6% in February 2016), one reason why most asylum seekers and refugees do not wish to settle here permanently. Asylum seekers and refugees want to contribute to their host countries. Therefore, most of them wish to stay in Sweden and other Scandinavian countries, as well as in Germany, where they can find jobs.
Economic integration is very often a precondition for other forms of integration as well, such as political, socio-cultural, educational, psychological, etc. Asylum seekers and refugees face a slow process of integration in Slovenia, due to the fact that they are only granted the right to work nine months after they apply for asylum. Unfortunately, at the end of 2015, many of them remained unemployed.
However, in Slovenia, asylum seekers and refugees are able to enrol in different educational programmes for economic migrants and refugees, such as courses for learning Slovene, literacy classes, legal counselling, computer courses, photography courses, creative workshops for children and adults, and English courses. These are available in the Asylum Centre. Most of them are provided by NGOs, although some of them are also provided by migrants themselves outside the Asylum Centre, as for example, in the ROG NGO.
In 2015, when refugees were passing through Slovenia, people were divided regarding the refugee question. Some were inclined to let refugees enter and stay in our country, while others were against it. While some perceive refugees as social, cultural and economic capital, there are others who see them as less skilled and as people who do not want to contribute to the host society. And so in Ljubljana and some other Slovenian cities demonstrations were organised for and against refugees.
When it comes to skillsets, refugees are a heterogeneous group; the stereotype that refugees are less educated is not true. Many are highly skilled, while others have fewer skills than the rest of the population. Among the eight male asylum seekers and refugees that I interviewed in the period from December 2013 to the end of April 2016, there were very different educational levels. They were enrolled in religious schools, some of them spoke several foreign languages, they had digital skills, and some of them had mostly manual skills.
Refugees as learners in host societies
When refugees come to the host country, they face the challenge of learning new habits, adapting to the cultural and social norms of the host state, learning its language, its legislation, as well as its history and traditions. Although the learning of adults is usually voluntary, on arrival in the host country, refugees encounter a situation where they have to learn and gain the above-mentioned knowledge; otherwise they risk social exclusion.
Prior experiences of refugees differ as well. Some of them have fled from very traumatic experiences, due to well-founded fears of persecution based on their religion, ethnicity, political opinion or particular social group, while others have mainly fled to the host state due to violations of human rights in the country of origin; some lost their relatives. As all refugees are different and due to the fact that every individual is unique, different learning styles are characteristic for asylum seekers and refugees. Therefore, teachers in host countries should take into consideration the experiences of asylum seekers and refugees, and at the same time the latter should adapt to the learning style of the host country, because integration is a two-way process.
Like the rest of the population, refugees differ as learners, some of them learn the host country language more quickly, and some of them struggle. The above-mentioned interviews with Afghan asylum seekers and refugees revealed that those who are granted refugee status, and are able to remain in the host state at least for some years, are more motivated to learn the language.
Inclusion into adult education also enables asylum seekers and refugees to more effectively integrate by enlarging their social networks. It enables more cultural exchange between them and the members of the host society, particularly by including them more efficiently in the labour market. It is important that we provide adequate support to the education of adult asylum seekers and refugees.