While no provision of the Education Code covers the particular case of children of asylum seekers, the law provides that they are subject to compulsory education as long as they are between 6 and 16 years old,1 on the same conditions as any child. Primary school enrolment can be done at the local town hall. Enrolment in a secondary school (high schools) is made directly to the institution closest to the place of residence of the child. If the children seem to have a sufficient command of the French language, the evaluation process will be supervised by a Counselling and Information Centre (“Centres d’information et d’orientation”) (CIO). This State structure is dedicated to the educational guidance of all students.
When the children are not French-speaking or do not have a sufficient command of writing the language, their evaluations fall under the competency of the Academic Centre for Education of Newcomers and Travellers Children (CASNAV).2 The test results will enable teachers to integrate the child within the dedicated schemes e.g. training in French adapted to non-native speakers (“français langue étrangère”) (FLE) or initiation classes.
Education for asylum seeking children is usually provided in regular schools but can also sometimes be provided directly in reception centres (large emergency reception facilities for instance).
Barriers to an effective access to education are varied. Beyond the issue of the level of language, there are also a limited number of specialised language training or initiation classes and limited resources dedicated to these schemes. This is an even more acute difficulty for reception centres in rural areas which simply do not have such classes. Besides, some schools require an address before enrolling children and this can be an issue for asylum seekers who do not have a personal address. Finally, access to education for children aged 16 to 18 is much more complicated as public schools do not have any obligation to accept them. They may be eligible for French courses offered by charities but the situation varies depending on the municipality. Access to apprenticeship is not possible as it would imply an access to a work permit that is usually not granted to asylum seekers. As a general rule, there is no training foreseen for adults. French language courses are organised in some reception centres depending on the availability of volunteers. Young adults and adults are often forced to put aside their career or training, pending the decision on their asylum application. For young people, this represents a considerable loss of time.
Finally, asylum seeking children with special needs are faced with the same difficulties as children with special needs in general. Access to trained and specialised staff (“auxiliaires de vie scolaire”) tasked with supporting these children during their education in regular schools is very limited. For example, on 10 March 2014, the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe adopted a resolution tackling the issue of the difficult schooling of children with autism in France.3
According to a March 2014 report from the CNCDH, access to education remains a concern for unaccompanied children, in particular those who are not taken charge by the competent public service and have to care for themselves. In a recent study,4 the Council of Europe and UNHCR indicated that unaccompanied and separated children arriving after the age of 16 are only given access to education if places are available. Some of them arrive without ever having been to school, so they often cannot read or write. In this case it is extremely difficult to integrate them into the mainstream education system. There is no access to free language classes, as in some other countries, either. Sometimes, social workers in the facilities manage to make appropriate arrangements on an ad hoc basis.
In the "Maison du jeune réfugié" in Paris, managed by the NGO France terre d’asile, all unaccompanied children arriving have classes to learn French and maths, as a minimum. Depending on their level of French and literacy, they are placed into one of four different groups. In that way, they immediately start an integration process, with access to basic education, while preparing their future projects.
- 1. Article L.131-1 Education Code.
- 2. See Circular NOR: 2012-143 of 2 October 2012.
- 3. Council of Europe Committee of Ministers, Autisme-Europe against France, Resolution ResChS(2004)1, Collective complaint No. 13/2002, 10 March 2014, available at: http://bit.ly/1RlREQt.
- 4. CNCDH, Unaccompanied and separated asylum-seeking and refugee children turning eighteen: What to celebrate?, UNHCR/Council of Europe field research on European State practice regarding transition to adulthood of unaccompanied and separated asylum -seeking and refugee children, March 2014, Strasbourg, France.