The ‘qualifications passport’ scheme breaking down barriers for migrants | Global development

The armed rebels had first ransacked the hospital where Timothée* worked as a doctor. Then, they went door to door with machetes, hunting down those seen as the wealthiest – the most educated first. When the house next door was burned down with his neighbours still inside, Timothée fled.

Without a chance to grab his passport or phone, Timothée ran through the darkness of the bush of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, knowing he might never see his family or his fiancee again.

When he reached a refugee settlement in Meheba, Zambia, in September, Timothée had no proof of his previous life.

But now he has a little more hope about the future. In Zambia, a pilot qualifications passport scheme is being run by the government and the UN agency Unesco to help refugees access jobs or further education in the country by informally verifying their qualifications when they do not have crucial paperwork.

A joint Unesco/UNHCR report found that fewer than 15% of migrants in developed countries say their level of education matches their jobs. In developing countries one in eight immigrants say that having their qualifications recognised is their greatest challenge in settling into new lives, more so than language, discrimination or even visa restrictions.

Of the 60 who applied from his camp, Timothée was among 11 who reached the required standard.

Summarising the holder’s qualifications, experience and language skills, as well as any paperwork available, the qualifications passport is designed to help translate a refugee’s qualifications to those in the host country.

The scheme is due to be extended to Iraq and Colombia next year.

Timothée feels his years of study and medical practice have at last been recognised.

“The day I heard my qualifications had been accepted, I was so happy. I thanked God. It’s a way for me to get my identity back,” he says.

Last week, Unesco member states adopted a new convention for “fair, transparent and non-discriminatory recognition” of higher education qualifications.

Audrey Azoulay, Unesco’s director general, says it is in everyone’s interests to create a “simple mechanism”. “For governments, there is a clear fiscal argument against the squandering of human capital.”

Timothée has managed to let his family know where he is via Facebook on a borrowed phone. He has not yet been able to speak to his fiancee but has established through a friend that she is safe.

He hopes he might move to a French-speaking country as it would be easier for him to practise medicine there. France would be nice, but he needs travel documents. He knows there are no guarantees yet, but is hopeful.

“Doors are opening for me again”, he says.

* Surname withheld on request.

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