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IMMIGRATION

Prestigious French uni offers English courses to migrants

One of Paris’ most renowned higher-education establishments is offering free language courses to refugees as part of an integration scheme thought up by the university's students.

Prestigious French uni offers English courses to migrants
Photo: AFP

The course at the Paris Institute of Political Studies – often referred to simply as Sciences Po – began on Monday, with twenty migrants taking part.

The students are aged between 20 and 40 years and are originally from Syria, Afghanistan and Sudan, with most already holding university qualifications from their own countries.

The aim is to help the migrants integrate in French society, but rather than just offering French classes, the university has decided to give the group of migrants the choice between French or English.

A spokeswoman for the university told The Local: “Most of the students we took on speak English so English language courses were offered because it was important to consolidate their level in this language.

“Secondly if they master English they will have a wider choice of courses to follow at Sciences Po, because many of them are taught only in English.”
 
As well as joining the language courses, the migrants can also benefit from access to the university’s teaching resources, including the libraries and online materials, as well as extra-curricular activities such as sports clubs, societies and student events.

The scheme is set to last until June but if it is judged successful it could be repeated in 2017.

Language barriers are often cited as an obstacle to integration and employment for migrants and refugees arriving in Europe. 

In France, there are no official language classes for new migrants run by the French state, but several charities and volunteer groups have offered French and English lessons in the country's refugee camps like the 'Jungle' near Calais.

However, if migrants are granted refugee status or asylum in France, they can enter into an “integration” contract with the state under which they receive free language classes for one year.

Sciences Po is known for its intensive programmes and has been a breeding ground for French leaders, with current president François Hollande and ex-president François Mitterand among its alumni.

Former President Nicolas Sarkozy also unrolled at Sciences Po, but he failed to graduate because his level of English wasn't deemed good enough.

POLITICS

How the EU aims to reform border-free Schengen area

European countries agreed on Thursday to push towards a long-stalled reform of the bloc's migration system, urging tighter control of external borders and better burden-sharing when it comes to asylum-seekers.

How the EU aims to reform border-free Schengen area
European interior ministers met in the northern French city of tourcoing, where president Emmanuel Macron gave a speech. Photo: Yoat Valat/AFP

The EU home affairs commissioner Ylva Johansson, speaking after a meeting of European interior ministers, said she welcomed what she saw as new momentum on the issue.

In a reflection of the deep-rooted divisions on the issue, France’s Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin – whose country holds the rotating EU presidency – said the process would be “gradual”, and welcomed what he said was unanimous backing.

EU countries backed a proposal from French President Emmanuel Macron to create a council guiding policy in the Schengen area, the passport-free zone used by most EU countries and some affiliated nations such as Switzerland and Norway.

Schengen council

Speaking before the meeting, Macron said the “Schengen Council” would evaluate how the area was working but would also take joint decisions and facilitate coordination in times of crisis.

“This council can become the face of a strong, protective Europe that is comfortable with controlling its borders and therefore its destiny,” he said.

The first meeting is scheduled to take place on March 3rd in Brussels.

A statement released after the meeting said: “On this occasion, they will establish a set of indicators allowing for real time evaluation of the situation at our borders, and, with an aim to be able to respond to any difficulty, will continue their discussions on implementing new tools for solidarity at the external borders.”

Step by step

The statement also confirmed EU countries agreed to take a step-by-step approach on plans for reforming the EU’s asylum rules.

“The ministers also discussed the issues of asylum and immigration,” it read.

“They expressed their support for the phased approach, step by step, put forward by the French Presidency to make headway on these complex negotiations.

“On this basis, the Council will work over the coming weeks to define a first step of the reform of the European immigration and asylum system, which will fully respect the balance between the requirements of responsibility and solidarity.”

A planned overhaul of EU migration policy has so far foundered on the refusal of countries such as the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia to accept a sharing out of asylum-seekers across the bloc.

That forces countries on the EU’s outer southern rim – Italy, Greece, Malta and Spain – to take responsibility for handling irregular migrants, many of whom are intent on making their way to Europe’s wealthier northern nations.

France is pushing for member states to commit to reinforcing the EU’s external borders by recording the details of every foreign arrival and improving vetting procedures.

It also wants recalcitrant EU countries to financially help out the ones on the frontline of migration flows if they do not take in asylum-seekers themselves.

Johansson was critical of the fact that, last year, “45,000 irregular arrivals” were not entered into the common Eurodac database containing the fingerprints of migrants and asylum-seekers.

Earlier, German Interior Minister Nancy Faeser suggested her country, France and others could form a “coalition of the willing” to take in asylum-seekers even if no bloc-wide agreement was struck to share them across member states.

She noted that Macron spoke of a dozen countries in that grouping, but added that was probably “very optimistic”.

Luxembourg’s foreign minister, Jean Asselborn, hailed what he said was “a less negative atmosphere” in Thursday’s meeting compared to previous talks.

But he cautioned that “we cannot let a few countries do their EU duty… while others look away”.

France is now working on reconciling positions with the aim of presenting propositions at a March 3rd meeting on European affairs.

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