In the case of unaccompanied children, the law provides for the right to education. The reception centre and guardians struggle with actively assisting children to enrol in schools and helping them to attend classes. Unaccompanied children who have been granted international protection are enrolled in the mainstream Hungarian child welfare system and the same rules apply to them as to all other children, which is the right to education.
Education for unaccompanied children is in practice provided by a limited number of public schools in Budapest. Access to effective education remained difficult in the last years. Access had to be guaranteed to younger children in 2020, which would have proven to be a difficult task even in a ‘normal year’. Paired with COVID-19 restrictions, it was virtually impossible to access for months. The HHC is aware of one case when a 5-year-old unaccompanied minor was enrolled in a local kindergarten.
While all unaccompanied minors in the Children’s Home in Fót were enrolled in schools, some complained of the low quality of education in their secondary schools. Schools were not always chosen for students based on their abilities, wishes and potential, but rather on the availability of empty places. There is no official state-funded language learning support for refugee children when entering the school system.
Unaccompanied children receiving protection status before they turn 18 are eligible to aftercare services that grant them the right to free education and housing. Depending on their individual circumstances and the level of education they are receiving, they may benefit from aftercare until they turn 30. On 31 December 2022, 22 beneficiaries of international protection received aftercare services from the Károlyi István Children’s Home in Fót. There was 1 child with international protection registered in Fót on 31 December 2022.
In the case of children with families, the situation is also difficult. Hardly any school is ready to offer the specialised care and support refugee children need. The growing anti-refugee sentiment may make it even more difficult for schools to admit children receiving international protection for fear of facing a backlash from parents or donors.
Both unaccompanied children and children staying with their families are provided on a weekly basis assistance in their integration to the education system by the Jesuit Refugee Service and cooperating volunteers. They are helped with Hungarian language skill development as well as with specific school subjects. The Jesuit Refugee Service worked with 16 high-school children on a weekly basis and they assisted 25 students and their parents with their education in 2022. Kalunba also provided an afterschool programme for children and young adults in 2020 and 2021 and 2022 entailing correspondence with the schools and the educational support of the children.
As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic the introduced online education system posed further hurdles to refugee children. On the one hand, there was a lack of electronic devices available in the families (the Menedék Association, certain districts in Budapest and other NGOs helped the families in need with computer rent), on the other hand parents could not help them efficiently with the studies mainly due to language barriers. Due to the increased workload for teachers, they had reduced time to dedicate to children with special needs, such as beneficiaries of international protection. As the Menedék Association and the Jesuit Refugee Service commented, the existing disadvantages have been amplified by online education. Next Step Hungary Association reported a drop in school performance and Hungarian language skills among children beneficiaries of protection due to online teaching and limited social interaction with local children. The pandemic also affected school registrations adversely. In March 2020, a young adult could not register for a Hungarian language training because the school was closed. The situation was resolved by September 2020. The Lutheran Church reported difficulties with access to education of children in 2021. Accordingly, during the springtime online schooling, schools contacted by the Church did not receive new pupils. None of the organisations mentioned hereby reported any difficulties regarding the COVID-19 pandemic in 2022.
Higher and adult education
Beneficiaries of international protection have the same rights to access education as Hungarian nationals. Nevertheless, there are administrative barriers regarding higher education to which beneficiaries are exposed. On the one hand, beneficiaries face problems regarding the obligation to provide proof of their secondary education upon accessing university, since they cannot contact their country of origin in case they do not have the necessary certificates. According to Hungarian law, the head of the university might give exemption from such administrative obligations to refugees. Nevertheless, there is no protocol to follow in this regard. In 2019, Wolffhardt et al. wrote the following: ‘Barriers that negatively impact on access to the higher (upper secondary, postsecondary/tertiary) levels of education are more widespread and exist in […] Hungary, […]. Mostly, they relate to proving previous stages of educational attainment without authorities regulating the equivalence procedures or proceedings in the absence of proper documentation.’ Menedék Association reports that when beneficiaries of international protection submit their certificates to the national authorities for national recognition, the proceeding authority sometimes contacts the competent institution in the country of origin, thereby potentially exposing beneficiaries to the authorities of the persecuting country of origin. The HHC is aware of a positive example from 2020. A beneficiary of international protection fleeing their country of origin during their academic years had no official proof of secondary school graduation in their home. The university accepted an official certificate issued by the NDGAP stating that their highest education is secondary school as a replacement for their secondary school certificate. Besides the administrative hurdles, the comprehensive study of the Menedék Association on ‘Opportunities for supporting the higher education studies of beneficiaries of international protection’ from 2021, identified further barriers for beneficiaries of international protection regarding access to education, namely the lack of Hungarian language skills and of state financial support programs. Additionally, the absence of ‘catch-up courses’ for beneficiaries of international protection and the low number of secondary education institutions makes it difficult for refugees to access higher education. The results of the study published by the Menedék Association as well as experiences of refugees with regard to access to education was discussed at a panel discussion organised by the She4She and the HHC on 20 June 2021.
Young adults and adults have the same access to vocational trainings as nationals. However, access is hindered by the fact that the trainings granted by law are only available in Hungarian, thereby the specific needs of beneficiaries of international protection as a vulnerable group are not taken into account. On the other hand, beneficiaries of international protection face no administrative obstacles in accessing such trainings.
Young adults and adults have access only to a limited number of courses offered by NGOs. Kalunba offered Hungarian language course free of charge for refugees who have just been granted status. The organisation provided supervision for children of the parents attending the language class. The Jesuit Refugee Service with the help of volunteers also provided Hungarian language coaching for adults throughout 2020, 2021 and 2022.
Next Step Hungary Association (formerly MigHelp) is an adult education institute. According to their website, the association offers among others Hungarian, German, French, and English classes, computer training, classes in vehicle driving, and provides child day care for migrants and refugees. Their programmes are free of charge although according to the organisation, spoken English on an intermediate level is a precondition to attend their courses. In 2022, Next Step provided courses on computer skills, preparatory for the driving licence, Hungarian as a foreign language, as well as coding and programming classes for children. According to the organisation, the Hungarian courses were attended by 4 refugees, and 2 of them received certificates of completion. The European Computer Licence Course was attended and successfully completed by 3 refugees. The Kids’ Coding courses were attended and completed by 1 refugee. The organisation attributes the low number of enrolled people with international protection status to the restrictive asylum policies implemented by the Hungarian government. Next Step Hungary Association has a practice of prioritizing vulnerable migrants coming from countries of concern whenever possible. On average, approximately 50-60% of the Association’s courses and activities are attended by vulnerable migrants. Next Step noted that due to irregular working hours, some of the enrolled people with international protection status were unable to fully commit to starting and/or completing courses that were much needed to improve their employment status.
The Central European University relaunched its Open Learning Initiative (OLIve) programme in 2021 specifically targeting asylum seekers and refugees in the autumn semester of 2020 after it was on a pause for two years as a result of the ambiguity of the so-called ‘Stop Soros’ legislation package, that came into force in August 2018 levying a 25% tax on financing or activities ‘supporting’ immigration or ‘promoting’ migration in Hungary. Courses were offered throughout 2021-2022. It was announced, however, that the programme is going to be terminated in 2023.
 Section 77(1)(d), (2) and Section 93 Child Protection Act.
 Information provided by the Directorate-General for Social Affairs and Child Protection on 7 April 2022.
 Information received from the Jesuit Refugee Service by the HHC on 3 March 2023.
 Section 39(1)(b) of Act CCIV of 2011 on Higher Education.
 Section 4(2) of Act C of 2001.
 Information received from Menedék Association by the HHC on 28 Ferbuary 2023.
 Wolffhardt et al., The European benchmark for refugee reintegration: A comparative analysis of the National Integration Evaluation Mechanism in 14 EU countries, 2019, https://bit.ly/2KZgiYY, 113.
 Wolffhardt et al., The European benchmark for refugee reintegration: A comparative analysis of the National Integration Evaluation Mechanism in 14 EU countries, 2019, https://bit.ly/2KZgiYY, 114.
 Information received from the Jesuit Refugee Service by the HHC on 3 March 2023.
 Information received from Next Step Hungary Association by the HHC on 6 February 2023.
 HHC, Criminalisation and Taxation – The summary of legal amendments adopted in the summer of 2018 to intimidate human rights defenders in Hungary, 25 September 2018, available at: https://bit.ly/2GxoLBq.
 Mérce: Megszüntetné a CEU a menekültek népszerű oktatási programját, 4 February 2023, available in Hungarian at: bit.ly/3ZW8Kci.