Less than 15% of children seeking asylum on the Greek Islands received an education in 2017

Less than 15% of children seeking asylum on the Greek Islands received an education in 2017

A report by Human Rights Watch reveals that asylum-seeking children in Greece are often denied education due to a European Union-backed migration policy which leaves those children on the Aegean islands.

The report discovered that only about 100 children in government run camps received a preschool education in 2017.  There are over 3,000 school-age asylum-seeking children on the Greek Islands but only 15% of these were enrolled in public school at the end of the 2017-2018 school year. The report highlights that asylum seeking children on the islands do not have the same education opportunities as those on the mainland.

Human Rights Watch interviewed more than 100 school-age asylum-seeking children and young migrants on the islands, authorities from Education Ministry officials, UN, and local aid groups.

Bill Van Esveld, senior children’s rights researcher at Human Rights Watch commented:

“Greece should drop its policy of confining child asylum seekers and their families to the islands, since for two years the government has proven incapable of getting these children into school there. Stranding children on islands where they can’t go to school harms them and violates Greece’s own laws.”

By Greek law, education is free and compulsory for every child ages from 5 to 15, including asylum-seeking children. International law also ensures every children has the same right to primary and secondary education without discrimination. 

ECHO, the European Commission's humanitarian agency said:

“Education is crucial for girls and boys affected by crises. It said that education can restore their sense of normality and safety provide important life skills, and is one of the best investments in their long-term future, and in the peace, stability and economic growth of their countries.”

Although some non-governmental organizations offer informal education to asylum-seeking children on the islands, officials have argued this should not be considered a substitution of formal education. For example, some camps offer education in prefabricated containers where they can only study for 1.5 hours one day.

Education is considered a critical tool for helping asylum seeking children recover from the trauma of their experiences as it provides a stable routine and development opportunities. However, humanitarian groups are concerned the lack of education available to some will exacerbate trauma, stress and anxiety.

Human Rights Watch highlighted that an Education Ministry committee on refugee education found that some plans to improve access to education on the islands had been blocked.

Greece recently passed a law to provide greater clarity on asylum seekers’ rights to education and the Education Ministry is planning to open 15 additional classes for asylum-seeking children on the islands in the 2018-2019 school year. Despite this plan, most of school-age asylum-seeking children on the islands would still be excluded from education.

Mr. Esveld added,

“Greece has less than two months to ensure that children who risked their lives to reach its shores are able to go to school when the school year begins, a deadline it has never met. The European Union should encourage Greece to fulfill these children’s right to education by scrapping the containment policy, and allowing asylum seeking children and their families off the islands so they can get the education and services they need.”


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Image credit: ReliefWeb

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