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. In practice, access had to be guaranteed to younger children in 2020, which would prove to be a difficult task in a “normal year” too, however, paired with restrictions due to Covid-19, it was virtually impossible for months. The HHC is aware of one case when a 5-year-old unaccompanied minor was finally 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.
Those unaccompanied children receiving a 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 2020, 23 beneficiaries of international protection (3 refugees and 20 beneficiaries of subsidiary protection) received aftercare services provided by the Károlyi István Children’s Home in Fót. According to the information provided by the Directorate-General for Social Affairs and Child Protection all beneficiaries of international protection receiving aftercare services were enrolled in educational institutions.
In the case of children with families, the situation is also difficult. Hardly any school is ready to offer the specialised care and support that 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. Kalunba also provided an afterschool program for children and young adults in 2020 (it runs still 2009) entailing correspondence with the schools and the educational support of the children. Their program includes around 35 participants in each half a year. Since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic their activities are provided online.
As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic the introduced online education system posed further hurdles to refugee children. In the course of home-schooling in the spring of 2020 the problem had mainly two causes. On the one hand there was a lack of electric devices available in the families (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.
As to the administrative barriers regarding education Wolffhardt et al. writes 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.” The HHC is aware of a positive example from 2020. A beneficiary of international protection fleeing the country of origin during his/her academic years had no official proof of secondary school graduation in his/her home. The university accepted an official certificate issued by the NDGAP stating that his/her highest education is secondary school as a replacement for his/her secondary school certificate.
The COVID-19 pandemic affected also 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.
Young adults and adults have the same access to vocational trainings as nationals. However, the 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 is not taken into account. On the other hand though, beneficiaries of international protection face no administrative obstacles when accessing such trainings.
Apart from that, young adults and adults have access only to a limited number of courses offered by NGOs. Kalunba offered Hungarian language course for free of charge for those refugees who have just been granted status. The organisation provided supervision for children of the parents attending the language class. This service is suspended though since the spring due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The Jesuit Refugee Service with the help of volunteers also provided Hungarian language coaching for adults.
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, those not speaking English on an intermediate level are not able to attend their courses.
The Central European University relaunched its Open Learning Initiative (OLIve) programme 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.
Wolffhardt et al. 2019, 141.
Section 77(1)(d), (2) and Section 93 Child Protection Act.
Information provided by the Directorate-General for Social Affairs and Child Protection on 13 April 2021.
Wolffhardt et al. 2019, 139.
Wolffhardt et al. 2019, 113.
Wolffhardt et al. 2019, 114.
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.
The programme continues as of January 2019.