At least 33 organizations in Greece published an appeal on March 9, expressing concern that asylum seekers and refugee children do not have sufficient public education access.
“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 Greek government leaders 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, and 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 awful for children living in camps on the Greek Aegean Islands. Access to schools in the local communities has long been “almost non-existent” for them.
Coronavirus Made Things Worse
The islands and the mainland have gotten much worse over the past year, the 33 organizations argue. This has led to “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 to take part in classes virtually.
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.
COVID-19 presents a serious risk to refugee education worldwide, according to the UN refugee agency UNHCR. It warns that the virus threatens to cause a ‘pandemic of poverty, which could reverse hard-won progress made in refugee school enrolment.
The coronavirus pandemic could reverse some of the “hard-won increases” in education enrolment of refugees that have been made over the past few years, the UNHCR says. In some cases, these setbacks could be permanent.
In a report titled “Coming Together for Refugee Education,” the refugee agency notes that half of all refugee children worldwide are out of school. Already disadvantaged before the pandemic, these vulnerable groups will be further sidelined after lockdowns end, the report warns.