Despite the Government announcements that it will ensure access to education for all refugee children living in Greece, the majority of the children living in the Aegean islands Hot Spots, has no access to formal education. These include amongst others children of families who have been trapped for many months in these camps and live in deplorable conditions. These children remain until today deprived from the right to education.
Few days ago, the Minister for Migration Policy, Giannis Mouzalas, praised the program of integrating refugee children into the education process. The program is being implemented for over a year and concerns mainly the creation of the afternoon reception classes called “Reception/ Preparatory Classes for the Education of Refugees” (DYEP). Afternoon reception classes for refugee children living in the mainland have started operating the school-year 2016-2017 in order to facilitate their integration into mainstream education. According to media reports, this school-year year, 6,500 refugee children attend classes at all levels of formal education. The Ministry of Education estimates that the total number of 6 to 16-year-old refugee children attending mainstream and afternoon reception classes (DYEP) will soon reach 7,000. UNHCR estimates (based on government statistics) that some 20.000 asylum-seeking and refugee children are currently in Greece (about 40% of the overall refugee population). Of these children 35% are below the age of four, 39% between five and eleven, and 26% from twelve and seventeen.
However, since the beginning of the current school year, human rights organizations have warned about the risk of hundreds of refugee children remaining out of school again. Indeed, there are huge gaps in relation to the education of children living in Hot Spots. According to the North and South Aegean Regions administrations, out of all pre-school and school age children living in Hot Spots as of early February, only 10 children on the island of Leros attended school. The only option available to all other children is in the best case to participate in non-formal education programs carried out by NGOs.
The example of Chios is indicative of the situation. During the past year school year, none of the refugee children living on the island had access to formal education (with the exception of two children enrolled to school after huge efforts made by their families). In the current school year (2017-2018), only children hosted by the UNHCR accommodation scheme or in the “Metadrasis” shelter managed to get enrolled to the island’s state schools after overcoming great bureaucratic obstacles. The number of pre-school and school age children living inside the Vial Hot Spot, is currently significantly reduced and estimated to 150 children of primary school age. However, none of them has been able to access formal education since Greek law requires the establishment of afternoon reception classes (DYEP). It was just few days ago that the authorities started hiring staff for the kindergarten that will be attended by approximately 45 children living in the Hot Spot. Currently, nearly all children living in the Vial Hot Spot attend only non-formal education (such as creative play and learning basic skills) that take place in NGO run areas.
Growing social inequality and the rise of racist stereotypes
The current lack of access of refugee children to formal education accentuates the pre-existing problems of discontinued education or illiteracy. At the same time, this continued lack of access to education creates significant problems and difficulties for refugee families, as it increases further social inequality and strengthens already existing racist stereotypes. We are already in the middle of the school year and in the North Aegean there have not yet been any afternoon reception classes (DYEΡ) for refugee children. As a result, the children in Hot Spots who would normally attend Primary, Secondary or High Schools are denied the basic right to education. At present, the Refugee Education Coordinators (RECs) appointed by the Ministry register the children in order to prepare the classes whenever they are finally created.
The key question that remains is whether any afternoon reception class on the islands will be equipped sufficiently to ensure its effective operation. Understaffing, the lack of incentives for teaching staff, the complete lack of specialized training and support for teachers, the lack of specialized education material and interpreters, combined with the failure to find solutions for practical needs (contracts for cleaning, heating, etc.), are some of the issues that affect the classes that refugee children attend. The same issues will certainly arise during the operation of DYEP. Nearly two years after the infamous EU-Turkey Deal came into effect, refugee children are still trapped on the Aegean Islands for another school year and the violation of their right to education persists. It is imperative that the authorities immediately fill the gaps and establish afternoon reception classes so that they protect even with a delay these children’s rights.