by Niki Kitsantoni
New York Times
September 25, 2016
Mariya bint Loqman Abdlkarim is 9. She arrived in Greece in February after fleeing Syria with her family and crossing from Turkey in a rickety boat. Since then, she has been living in a shabby state-run camp, her future uncertain, her present reduced to the bare necessities.
Not long ago, the Greek government decided to give her a shot at something closer to a normal life: Along with 22,000 other refugee children, she would be allowed to attend public school starting in October.
But as with many aspects of Europe’s effort to cope with the huge numbers of migrants who have come to its shores, the plan quickly ran into intense opposition, in this case from parents in a number of communities near camps in northern Greece. The refugee children, the parents said, might have contagious diseases. Cultural differences, they said, might disrupt learning.
Last week, an association representing the parents of schoolchildren in the small town of Filippiada in western Greece sent a letter to local officials and the Education Ministry, saying “explicitly and categorically that we will not accept, under any circumstance and without any compromise, that the children of so-called irregular immigrants” attend local schools, referring to migrants entering the country illegally.
“They come from another continent with completely different diseases and health conditions,” the letter said, adding that the refugees have a “different outlook regarding the role of the family, of women, of religion.” Their presence would “alter the Greek character of the schools,” the letter said, adding, “We will not allow religious fanaticism.”