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Swiss schools prepare for Ukrainian children

Schools across the country could be taking Ukrainian refugees into their classes © Keystone / Laurent Gillieron

As Switzerland prepares to host over 5,000 refugees, many schools across the country could soon be taking in children fleeing war-torn Ukraine. The aim is to offer a safe environment.

This content was published on March 10, 2022 - 09:00
With input from SRF

Three refugee children started in a school in Eschlikon, canton Thurgau, on Monday, after the family was able to find shelter with relatives in the community.

The school had three days last week to prepare for the arrivals, head teacher Thomas Minder told Swiss public television SRF.External link "It was about welcoming the family, doing an intake interview, preparing everything within the class and also preparing the class itself,” Minder explained.

Special German classes have been organised for the children as well.

Many pupils have reacted with a lot of compassion for the situation in Ukraine, collecting donations and wanting to help, Minder said. “I think children from Ukraine who go to our school with will be very well received in our classes."

Safe environment

The main issue is that the Ukrainian children can attend class in a safe environment, Minder said. Swiss schools have some experience here when many refugee children came over from Syria. "If there are many children, you can open an integration class. If there are fewer, then you can integrate them into regular classes. This is what happened a few years ago with the children from Syria,” said Minder, who is also the president of the Association of Swiss Headteachers.

Switzerland has been stepping up measures to take in Ukrainian refugees following the Russian invasion. On Monday, the government said it has allocated 5,000 places in Swiss federal asylum centres for people fleeing the war.

Before that, on March 4, the Federal Council (Swiss government) announced plans to activate a special S permitExternal link for those in need of emergency protection – a permit that would allow Ukrainians to live and work in the country for a year, with an option to extend if necessary. The government will make a final decision on the details this coming Friday.

Current numbers

Currently there are 1,314 refugees from Ukraine in Switzerland; of these, 315 people are staying privately with relatives and acquaintances, and the rest are being accommodated in federal asylum centres and are being cared for there, according to Lukas Rieder, spokesperson for the State Secretariat for Migration (SEM).External link

"Looking at the age categories shows that around 40% are minors (27.3% between 0-11 years old, 12.7% between 12-17 years old). In this context, it is also worth noting that less than 1% of them were registered as UMA (unaccompanied minor asylum seekers)," he told SWI swissinfo.ch via email.

In all, 68% of the refugees are female, he added.

In terms of schooling, the S protection status enables all school-age children to have access to education, explained Rieder. There will be specific measures for children of pre-school age in the medium term.

How it works

Children in federal asylum centres are also taught, tutored and educated there, according to the SEM. After being assigned to a canton, they are then enrolled in schools in the region (cantons are in charge of education in Switzerland).

Families which have arrived privately in Switzerland, and are staying with relatives, for example, should consult their local administrations to learn about the registration process in their place of residence. This is because inscription procedures vary from canton to canton.

Anecdotal reports suggest that Ukrainian refugee parents have been making use of special forums and groups online to find out more how the Swiss education system works, asking for example how soon their children can go to school and how they can learn the local language quickly.

Meanwhile, the Swiss government is looking to ensure that children’s needs are accounted for, Rieder said.

"The Federal Council will initiate a mandate to determine the needs for support measures for refugees from Ukraine and to formulate measures that are as targeted as possible, including for school-age children,” he said.

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