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Studying successfully after fleeing Ukraine?

The HAW Hamburg Centre for Migration Research and Integration Practice is an initial point of contact for students who have fled Ukraine and have questions about studying in Hamburg.

Louis Henri Seukwa, professor of Education Science and head of the Centre for Migration Research and Integration Practice, speaks out against the unequal treatment of people who have fled Ukraine.

Since the war in Ukraine began, more than 700,000 people have fled to Germany. Approximately 20,000 of them are now living in Hamburg, including many academics, students and prospective students. The Centre for Migration Research and Integration Practice supports students and prospective students with a diverse range of programmes and offers. The German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) is supporting the additional demand for this work with approximately €100,000 at HAW Hamburg alone.

'We're pleased about this additional funding, which we urgently need,' says Prof. Dr. Louis Henri Seukwa, head of the centre. 'Even though fewer people in total are now coming to Hamburg, we're still contacted by roughly 30 people each week who need advising on continuing or starting their studies or are looking for programmes offering concrete support.'

An initial point of contact for all questions related to university study
Depending on the question or issue, the Centre for Migration Research and Integration Practice has so far assisted more than 300 people, either answering their questions directly or referring them to other universities or support services. Since the beginning of the war, a weekly online information event has been held especially for students who have fled Ukraine. The dates are available on the centre's website and on theUkraine information page. More detailed workshops provide information on university admission requirements, offer students help getting oriented in their studies, and answer questions about residency status, financing university studies and the application process. 

Established support services
The Centre for Migration Research and Integration Practice offers a student-centred advising and support programme for students with a migration or refugee background that recognises their existing competencies and spans that entire student life cycle, from the beginning of their studies to their transition to a career appropriate to their educational level. With its preparatory studies programme for prospective students with refugee experience, HAW Hamburg has created a cross-faculty structure as part of its 'migration-related university development' strategy that makes it possible for participants to attend regular courses and obtain credits even before they have obtained the necessary language certificate and other admission requirements. The aim is to ensure that the breaks in their educational biography resulting from their refugee experience are not extended unnecessarily.

The specific life situation of students with refugee experience requires expert migration-focused educational and psychosocial advising and support. Through the establishment of the Centre for Migration Research and Integration Practice in 2018, HAW Hamburg has created a sustainable structure with which to adequately and efficiently prepare for future phenomena stemming from migration movements. This is very helpful for both those students with refugee experience and the university itself. 'The Centre for Migration Research and Integration practice means we as a university are well-positioned and can benefit from our experiences since 2015, when the wars in Syria, Afghanistan and elsewhere saw large numbers of students with refugee experience contacting universities to take up or resume their studies,' says Prof. Dr. Seukwa. For instance, HAW Hamburg was able to welcome two visiting students and 10 guest auditors from Ukraine at very short notice in summer semester 2022.

Learning the language through educational integration
A central admission requirement for study at a German university is a certificate of German skills at the C1 level. It is also one of the main reasons that prospective students in Hamburg with refugee experience need longer for their education. There are only a few Bachelor's degree courses that are held completely in English. For example, Universität Hamburg and HAW Hamburg offer only two English-language Bachelor's degree courses in total.

'Our experience has been that it is not just intensive language courses that can help prospective students with refugee experience acquire language skills. For students with B1/2-level skills, attending regular courses as part of the preparatory studies programme is enormously helpful for learning the subject-related language. For example, participants can learn the language of their specific subject before they have formally been admitted, as well as learning how to organise themselves for their course of study,' says Prof. Dr. Seukwa. 'The multilingual offers that accompany the courses are like a life jacket for them, also because they simultaneously facilitate contact with other students with and without refugee experience through the centre's student project Bunte Hände (Colourful Hands).'

Unlevel playing field for students who have fled Ukraine
Discussions with students who have fled Ukraine have shown that the conditions are not the same for everyone: Approximately one-third of the students who have fled Ukraine and contacted the HAW Hamburg Centre for Migration Research and Integration Practice do not have Ukrainian citizenship and are from so-called 'third states' such as Nigeria, Morocco, Ghana and other African countries. They have reported experiencing racism as they fled to Germany, as well as not being able to cross borders nearly as easily as their Ukrainian fellow students.

Here in Germany, their legal situation is also different from that of people with a Ukrainian passport. Section 24 of the Residence Act, 'Granting of residence for temporary protection', which entered into force on 4 March 2022 following the EU Council's decision on the 'existence of a mass influx of persons', has been widely interpreted to mean that only Ukrainian citizens are eligible to quickly and relatively easily obtain a residency permit that entitles them to a work visa and social benefits. People without Ukraine citizenship who were living and studying in Ukraine are currently not categorised as refugees from a country where war is taking place, but rather as migrants from their home country. If this country is classified as 'secure', they have until only recently been required – like every other migrant without a residency permit – to leave the country after 90 days. 

It is now the case that students from Ukraine in Hamburg who do not have Ukrainian citizenship are being granted a temporary residency permit (Fiktionsbescheinigung) for six or 12 months. This allows them to work and entitles them to receive social benefits. However, it is only provisional and does not grant the secure right to remain. The latter would be the case, for example, if a residency permit for the purpose of study was issued.

'But that, in turn, is completely illusory in most cases,' says Prof. Dr. Seukwa. 'In that time they would not only have to acquire the necessary language certificate and provide proof of their existing qualifications, but would also have to provide 'proof of funding' by transferring €10,332 to a blocked account. That is pretty much impossible for these students. As we've heard from all those seeking advice, they deliberately decided to study in Ukraine because of the low cost of living and the European level of university education there.'

Prof. Dr. Seukwa is convinced that these young people, who have also fled war just like their fellow students with a Ukrainian passport, should be offered the same opportunities. 'I really hope that policy and politics move forward here, recognising these people's massive potential and at the same time acting decisively to stop the inequality that only contributes to feeding existing racisms. The positive approach to Ukrainian citizens who have fled to Germany could serve as a blueprint for refugee/migration policy that finally applies Europe's self-proclaimed values to everyone.' 

Text: Maren Borgerding / Yvonne Fietz-Michalowski