Can every refugee child on Chios really access education?

Recent statistics have shown that for the first time since 2016, formal and non-formal education actors have enough capacity to offer every refugee child living in Vial Camp, Chios, access to education.

Yet the reality is a far cry from the image of effective human rights provision this statement conjures. This ‘success’ hinges upon alarmingly tenuous factors.

For starters, enrolling children in public school requires working with the local Refugee Education Coordinator. Historically, this has been a ceremonial position characterised by high turn-over and contextual inexperience. Though now, for the first time, a competent coordinator was instated and leading to a dramatic increase in enrolments despite COVID restrictions, the continuation of this situation is not guaranteed.

Meanwhile, to enter public school you must have received a full set of childhood vaccines; but waiting times for an appointment for low-urgency medical issues can be up to six months. Without the help of a camp doctor working out-of-hours, less than half of the enrolled children would have had this chance.

The fact that every child in Vial Camp can now hypothetically access education is not due to an increase in teaching capacity. It is because there has been a 92% decrease in the number of children in the camp since April 2020.

And it doesn’t help those living in the local town.

In Chios town, only one fifth of the refugee children who have attempted to enrol in public school have been accepted. These are children who want and need to be integrated into society.

So what’s the solution?

It means encouraging families to try and enrol their children, even though this risks raising expectations which in reality cannot be met. Yet, without doing so, the Ministry of Education will not push to make provisions for the demand.

Unfortunately, the barriers to education do not stop at enrollment. Qualitative reporting shows that those who do make it into the public schools are under-supported, isolated and ostracised, leading to low engagement rates.

The right to education must be legally and practically guaranteed for all, without discrimination. All states have the obligation to protect, respect, and fulfil the right to education. For this to be realised in Chios, and across other hotspots, education services need restructuring. This starts with recognising the value which all children will bring to shaping a strong future Greek society.

Education is not a privilege - it is a fundamental human right.

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