Elementary school students at Thessaloniki’s 67th primary school welcomed 23 refugee students to their school with cries in Greek and English of “welcome,” followed by applause as the students arrived in the school year.
The students’ actions are in stark contrast to parents groups in northern Greece and elsewhere in the country who have written letters to the Ministry of Education protesting the inclusion of refugee students in their children’ schools and have locked the front gates of schools to prevent any students from entering.
Last month, actions by parents groups in Oreokastro, in northern Greece said they would do anything to prevent children from nearby refugee camps from entering their children’ schools. They claimed that health concerns were the main reason since refugee children, they claimed, were not properly immunized.
The Greek ministry of education and numerous medical groups refuted these claims and note that all refugee children that were being assimilated into Greek schools had been properly immunized and there was no health risk to anyone.
When the rebuke came on the health concern, the parents changed their tune and argued that refugee children wouldn’t feel comfortable in an environment with Greek children due to their cultural differences and threatened with a letter to “occupy” the school, preventing anyone from entering.
Similar concerns were raised on the island of Lesvos where parents were videotaped padlocking the front gates of a primary school, protesting tae addition of a few dozen children to classes from a nearby refugee camp.
This isn’t the first time the students’ will has differed from that of concerned parents.
In March, a center city Athens high school planned a grand welcome for refugee students with the words “Refugees Welcome” across the school yard made from book bags and a banner welcoming incoming refugee students stating in Greek “Our grandfathers were refugees, Our parents were immigrants and us, racists?”
The Greek government has implemented a plan to offer schooling for 20,000 children of refugees trapped in the country.
“Schooling refugee children falls under Greece’s international obligations,” Education Minister Nikos Filis told a news conference, adding that only vaccinated refugee children would be admitted to Greek schools, a direct reference to the matter in Oreokastro.
Filis continued: “As long as they are in this country, refugee children will play with Greek children,” he said. “Regardless of the circumstances any child is in, we are obliged to look after them and provide them with an education. It’s a legal obligation and a moral obligation.”
Over 60,000 refugees are currently stuck in Greece after several European nations have closed their borders preventing their flow northward to more prosperous countries.