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Rights Group Says Greece Denying Refugee Children School Access

Αssociated Press

FILE- Migrants with their belongings, sit at central Victoria square in Athens, on Wednesday, Sep. 2, 2020. (AP Photo/Yorgos Karahalis)

ATHENS – Although Greece's government has allowed children in refugee and migrant detention centers to attend local schools in some cases, not enough is being done to insure more have access, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said.

The activist group said only one in seven children living in camps across Greece, including on five islands near Turkey, were able to attend school in 2020 – when COVID-19 pandemic restrictions limited attendance.

HRW said the ruling New Democracy should hire more teachers, arrange for school transportation and lift “measures that block asylum-seeking children from school under the pretext of the ... pandemic.”

In a statement, the group said Greece has violated European Union directives to let asylum-seeking children be integrated into the national school system, which some ultra-right groups and parents have tried to stop.

“The Greek government needs to fix access to education for refugee children before the start of this coming school year,” said Bill Van Esveld, Associate Children’s Rights Director for HRW.

“The European Commission should demand better results, and protect the rights and futures of thousands of children,” he added.

Greece is holding some 100,000 refugees and migrants who began arriving in 2015 from Turkey, where they had gone fleeing war, strife and economic hardship in their homelands, especially Syria and Afghanistan.

The European Committee of Social Rights, the Council of Europe body that monitors and adjudicates compliance with the European Social Charter, declared Greece has violated the rights of asylum-seeking children, including the right to education of children on the Greek islands where new arrivals from Turkey are contained, said HRW.

There are some 10,400 school-age children seeking asylum in Greece who live in camps on the mainland and the Aegean islands, but 86 percent of these children were not attending school in early 2021, the Greek Ombudsman for Children’s Rights reported in April. 

In the island camps, only seve of 2,100 school-age children had attended school. According to UN and government data, during the 2019-2020 school year, a total of 31,000 school-age refugee children were living either inside or outside of camps, but only about 13,000 were enrolled. The government does not publish enrollment figures.

A problem is that virtually none of the refugee children speak Greek, which is the language in which classes are taught, but the group said there should be classes for them in their own languages although they come from many different countries and that teachers should be hired.