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Problematic aspects of the access to education for the refugee population in Greece

Six years after the onset of the "refugee crisis", the right to education may in theory be self-evident, yet in reality the refugee population's access to education is more questionable than ever, for both minors and young adults. In addition to the obstacles posed by local communities (such as the children of Ritsona who were not allowed to enter schools with the support of the municipal authority last year), bureaucracy is the biggest obstacle to the access of refugees to the educational system.

As the organization “HumanRights360” has pointed out, difficulties start with preschool education. Bureaucracy makes the enrollment of children in daycare centers difficult, and when bureaucratic problems are combined with limited vacancies, this results in the inability of children to join the system. Τhe problem is mainly found in the number of documents required, which in combination with the slow pace of procedures in several services (e.g. long delays due to understaffing for appointments to visit pediatricians of the national health system for the necessary medical documents) created a problem in collecting documents within the time limits set for the completion of the procedures through the electronic platform. 

This occurs more specifically in primary schools, where the slow pace of the Asylum Service (interviews, triptych renewals, etc.), has created obstacles for some school principals, who have expressed concerns about documents that appeared to have expired (while in force), meaning that the registration process cannot proceed. At the same time, in primary schools in densely populated areas such as Kypseli, where several civil society organizations provide housing services, principals have stated that there is a lack of vacancies. Furthermore, the search for a school at a reasonable distance is almost impossible, because of their distances from the home address. 

It is worth noting that students living in accommodation structures faced additional obstacles last year. Indicatively, their transfer to the schools by buses rented by the Regional Authorities was not always possible and in the cases of e-learning there were no material and technical infrastructures within the structures (fixed internet connection / computers) that would allow their uninterrupted participation in the educational process.

Continuing education, however, is not only a priority for minors. Starting from Greek language lessons provided to adults, the access is very difficult, as there are limited available places for courses at the Immigrant Integration Centers and the Helios Project is not accessible to everyone. There are of course civil society organizations that offer Greek language lessons, but again the number of places is lower than the number of applications. According to HumanRights360, there are many adults who want to continue their education. When contacting the NGO’s Service, they explain to them that there is a right to study at the Technical High School, which will later help them in their better and smoother integration into Greek society. 

During the school year 2020-2021, due to the difficulties that existed in relation to distance learning, there were many technical high schools, which closed and did not provide distance learning courses, which led to many beneficiaries being left "behind" in the curriculum. Also, in relation to the new registrations, all students now need TAXISNet codes (i.e. electronic access to the Greek Tax Authority). There were many who had not been able to make an appointment due to the closed services and later on it was difficult to book an appointment, resulting in very long delays. Concerns remain also in a reference to the first reception classes and the operation of the specific classes. Their usefulness is very important, but due to their understaffing, their initiation and their proper operation are endangered.

According to “HumanRights360”, another equally important issue regarding adult refugee education is the access to higher education. Naturally, the vast majority of these people cannot obtain the necessary documents from their home countries needed for their enrollment in the Higher Education system in Greece. Respectively many beneficiaries have been forced to stop their studies at the Universities of their countries and try in every way to continue their studies in Greece. Unfortunately, most of them remain in limbo.
The process of access of foreigners to Greek Universities is extremely complex with many obstacles and bureaucratic procedures. Usually, foreign applicants for their admission to domestic universities need to present a high school diploma (or a corresponding certificate of completion of secondary education) with the Hague Apostille and, depending on their country of origin, they additionally need a Certificate of Education of their country of study as a basis for access to higher education. Then, their diploma needs to be recognized by the local Directorates of Secondary Education as well as grade assignment in order to have the right of access to Higher Education. 

Understandably, as “HumanRights360” has repeatedly highlighted, securing all of the above documents is almost impossible for the vast majority of these people, due to war conflicts or persecution. In order to continue their university studies, alternative forms of access are sought, such as online university programs in English-speaking countries or English-language programs within Greece. Within 20 months, 24 people managed to secure a full scholarship to study at the American University of the People (UoPeople) and another person was able to receive a full scholarship to study in an English-language program of a Greek college.

Education is not only a training tool, but also a process of integration, interaction, understanding and acceptance. Through education, the culture of the area, the habits and the expectations that Greece has from its population, become familiar to them. The exclusion of adults from learning the language and consequently from accessing work, society and training, brings only negative consequences for all Greeks and their society.