Human Rights and The Education of Refugees and Asylum Seekers in Greece

Lighthouse Relief
Oct 3, 2018 · 6 min read

by Arthur Peirce

Only 50% of the world’s child refugee population is being educated, globally, for non-refugees, the number increases to 90%. As education is fundamental to a person’s social and intellectual development, this is a serious problem. Studies have also shown that an educated population also encourages the economic development of their country. Therefore, the impact of this lack of education may be something that will impact both the futures of the children and the countries where they settle, for decades to come.

Under human rights law, all children have the right to an education. With this, all states have the obligation to provide this education and ensure that it is maintained and provided effectively. States are obligated to provide education even to children who are not citizens. What this means is, wherever a child resides, they need to receive an education. The right to education is present in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights, The European Convention of Human Rights, The Refugee Convention, and most significantly; the Convention of the Rights of the Child, where the provisions of the right are expressed in detail. Education, therefore, is a fundamental Human Right.

Greek law understands and respects this. For example, The International Covenant of Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) says that states are obligated to:

“Make primary education compulsory and available free to all”

This is shown in Greek law. In Greece education is compulsory for all children aged between 5 years of age to 15, this regardless of their citizenship status. Yet, as over one-quarter of all people arriving on the shores of Greece are school-aged children, the capacity for the Greek state to provide this education has been stretched to well beyond breaking point.

In May, it was estimated that only 53% of child asylum seekers* across Greece were not in education. While this is a 3% improvement on the global average for refugees. It still shows that many are not being educated. The situation is particularly bad on the Greek Islands where far fewer children are in education when compared to the Greek mainland.

Realistically, gaps in education provision are to be expected. But efforts must also be made towards the closing of these gaps. As ICESCR declares, states must use the “maximum of its available resources” (Article II) for the fulfillment of the rights in the convention. This includes the right to education. So, according to human rights law at least, as the need for education increases, so must the number of resources be and used to meet this need.

Even from our relatively limited perspective in Ritsona, we can see both gaps in education and the many and diverse attempts to close these gaps from bodies both private and public.

Obviously, the children we see in Ritsona camp are a tiny fraction of the total, but of this tiny fraction: Roughly 63 of the 200 children in Ritsona attend Greek primary school. Recently all the closest primary schools to Ritsona were full, which forced some children to wait as more schools were sought. Though it was resolved in a couple weeks, it is nonetheless, a common problem.

At the time of writing, none of the camp’s secondary school-aged children are enrolled. Though many are expected to enroll in secondary school later this month.

Yet, at the same time, we are also seeing efforts to ensure all children in the camp will receive an education. Currently, this is through non-formal education forms.

Non-formal Education

Non-formal education is a method of education which lacks the structure, management, or official curriculum of formal education. An example of this would be the language classes in Lighthouse Relief’s YES space. Were the greek state to hold similar language classes in a school, by a recognised tutor, using an official curriculum, these classes would be an example of formal education.
Our classes and classes like them in Ritsona are often run on a first come first serve basis and lack the capacity to reach all children and youth in Ritsona.

It has been estimated that most asylum seekers in education are only educated through non-formal systems. Indeed there are many private organisations throughout Greece which prove non-formal educational services. Unfortunately, these organisations also struggle to meet demand or exist with uncertain futures. For example, in July 2017, the Norwegian Refugee Council ended an educational programme on the Island of Chios which catered for 300 children. Save the Children ended a similar programme soon after.

What is Being Done

In 2016 the Greek government implemented a programme to help people seeking asylum to adjust to the Greek education system. They did this by providing free afternoon Greek language classes and information about Greek culture and the school system (known as DYEP classes). The number of children benefiting from these afternoon classes remains a fraction of the overall number of children in Greece who require it, with 7000, in attendance of roughly 21,000 children in Greece.

A side effect of these classes is that most asylum seeker children are in Greek schools for only the first couple morning classes. The schools they attend are chosen specifically by the Greek Government, to ensure that children are fairly distributed across schools. There is a negative and a benefit to this, on one side the migrant children are educated at a slightly decreased capacity, but beneficially, the afternoon classes, if attended, should improve language comprehension, ensuring the morning classes are more effective.

Since 2010 the Greek government has had a system of morning integration classes (Zones of Educational Priorities -ZEP) for asylum seeking, or migrant children. These classes are designed for non-native speakers of Greek in particular. These classes demonstrate a strong commitment to respecting the education rights of the children.

However, these classes only exist for children actually enrolled and attending schools. In a report by Human Rights Watch, they have noted that some areas have seen a delay in ZEP or DYEP classes opening in areas with a heavy asylum seeker/migrant population. This further links the scale of the problem at hand.

Our organisation Lighthouse Relief recently started a fundraiser with the aim of providing children nutritious daily lunches, school supplies, and Greek language classes. We hope that this programme and others like it will help children entering or returning to the Greek education system settle in comfortably.
[You can find the fundraiser here:]

In Ritsona, the Greek Ministry of Education recently began offering pre-school activities and instruction to the small children of Ritsona. Prior to this, such activities were only offered by us in the Child-Friendly Space, and by IAMYOU, whose focus is education.These pre-school classes show, that the Greek state is working hard to ensure that all children get the care they require.


Organisations all across Greece are working hard to ensure asylum seeker children are getting the education they deserve. There almost seems to be a complex network of private tutors, UN organisations, the Greek state, and hundreds of NGOs which all seek educate, all seek to fill in accidental gaps in provision. But none can do it alone, and all bodies are working hard to ensure all children receive an education.

Perhaps, it was wrong earlier to relate to Human Rights law earlier. To ensure the asylum-seeking children in Greece get the help they need. Greater resources need to be found and correctly allocated to groups which are providing education. The obligation to provide this, may not fall to the Greek state to provide, it may not fall to the United Nations, it may not fall the numerous private organisations and NGOs across Greece.

But it may fall for each of us to do what we can.

*Whilst it is common, and in many cases appropriate to use the term “refugee”, legally speaking, this term only applies to individuals who meet the criteria set by the Refugee Convention of 1951 or have refugee status. Realistically, this cannot be assumed for all of those arriving in Greece.

Notes from the Lighthouse

NGO providing emergency relief to refugees in Lesvos and long-term support in Ritsona refugee camp in central Greece.

Lighthouse Relief

Written by

We provide emergency relief to refugees arriving in Lesvos and long-term support to vulnerable groups in Ritsona Refugee Camp on mainland Greece.

Notes from the Lighthouse

NGO providing emergency relief to refugees in Lesvos and long-term support in Ritsona refugee camp in central Greece.

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