Children play in a playground in the Ritsona refugee camp, north of Athens, Greece on October 22, 2019.
© 2019 LOUISA GOULIAMAKI/AFP via Getty Images
The first day of school in Greece, September 13, signals the return to in-person schooling for children after a year of Covid-19 related disruptions and learning loss. Today will be especially important for refugee and asylum-seeking children, most of whom accessed little to no education before and during the pandemic.
On paper, Greece has offered special school programs to teach the Greek language to asylum-seeking and refugee children since 2015, but these classes have always started late, often months into the school year. Last year, the Education Ministry only began recruiting teachers for some of these classes in December. And in the camps on the Aegean islands, no classes were held at all.
The government’s pandemic-related measures aggravated the denial of learning for refugee children. Some camps were locked down to prevent the spread of Covid-19 with no exception to allow children to attend school, even though their education is compulsory under Greek law. Education Ministry employees who worked in the camps told us how local officials prevented children from enrolling in public schools in nearby communities. One educator wrote that 850 children in one camp had been unable to enroll for nine months. Many children in Greece had difficult accessing “distance learning” during school closures, but in the camps, officials confirmed no WiFi hotspots, tablets, or laptops were provided. Fewer than 1 in 7 children living in camps attended school at all last year.
The European Committee of Social Rights and the Greek Ombudsman on children’s rights have found that Greece has violated refugee children’s right to quality education without discrimination.
There are hopes this year will be better. In June the Greek government committed to a 3-year plan with UNICEF to get all migrant children into some form of education, beginning today. The European Union should fund the plan, and pressure Greece to meet its legal obligation to provide all kids with education, without exception.
“They told us that on 13 of September we will start, so I hope we will,” said Parwana Amiri, a 17-year-old living in the Ritsona camp, outside Athens. Last year she helped organize classes run by refugees themselves, demonstrating how strongly these kids want to learn. This year, Greece shouldn’t let them down.