Refugee kids playing with the snow in Malakasa camp in Greece | Photo: EPA/Orestis Panagiotou
Refugee kids playing with the snow in Malakasa camp in Greece | Photo: EPA/Orestis Panagiotou

Refugee children in Greece have long lacked access to public education, and the coronavirus pandemic has made things even worse, according to a letter published by 33 organizations. They are demanding immediate action from Greek und EU authorities.

33 organizations in Greece published an appeal on March 9, expressing concern that asylum seekers and refugee children do not have sufficient access to public education in Greece.

"We call upon the Greek government to take immediate action to guarantee equal, substantive, and quality education to children of all ages and nationalities residing both on the islands and on the mainland," they wrote.

Their open letter was addressed to several leaders of the Greek government and the European Union (EU), including Greece's prime minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis and Ursula von der Leyen, the President of the EU Commission.

"For the past six years it has not been possible to guarantee smooth and unimpeded access to education for asylum seeking children," the organizations wrote in the letter.

Refugee children excluded from public schools

The organizations cite a lack of transportation from camps to schools, understaffing and malfunctioning of reception classes, a lack of spots available at schools and kindergartens as well as resistance by school administrations and local communities against enrolling refugee and migrant children.

In the letter, the 33 organizations also accused authorities of displaying a "worrying absence of any concern" about the situation.

According to Still I Rise and its co-signatories, the situation has been particularly bad for children living in camps on the Greek Aegean Islands, where access to schools in the local communities has long been "almost non-existent" for them.

Coronavirus made things worse

The situation on the islands and the mainland has gotten much worse over the past year, the 33 organizations argue. This has led "an extensive process of 'deschooling'," they warned.

Lockdowns of camps have meant that many refugee and migrant children cannot leave to go to school -- but they also usually don't have access to computers and fast internet in order to virtually take part in classes.

The letter's signatories said that under Greek and European law, all children aged 4 to 15 -- including asylum seekers -- are entitled to free education.

'Act immediately so no child is left behind'

"For the majority of underage asylum seekers in Greece, accessing education is a bureaucratic and logistical nightmare," said Giulia Cicoli, advocacy director of Still I Rise, one of the signatories of the letter.

Cicoli warned that "the COVID-19 pandemic and the constant lockdown of camps in which they reside -- where distance learning is practically impossible -- have further exacerbated the situation."

"It is of crucial importance that European and Greek authorities act immediately to ensure that no child is left behind," Cicoli argued.

 

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