With the backdrop of the US presidential elections this week, we have been asked by a few correspondents whether it has had any impact on our work. Apart from a certain amount of understandable distraction for US colleagues here in Greece, we have seen relatively little impact.
After Brexit in the summer we saw a spike in ‘hate / detractor mail’ berating us for working with foreign children in foreign countries. Some of the messages took issue with the fact that we got the children too much sympathy and that was allegedly dangerous for the UK. Some of the messages were frankly incomprehensible. There were lots of expletives and threats but a total lack of clarity about what exactly was the point of the tirade.
Over the last few months we have seen the weekly tirade become a little more international in nature. UK tiraders have reduced somewhat and we have picked up a few new ones from the US and other countries. As far as we can tell this has nothing to do with the Presidential elections as the trend predated the elections. The trend seems to be more related to where and when we have had media coverage about our work.
We’re not entirely sure what the point of the tiraders is. We provide an education for refugee children who cannot otherwise get an education. Why is that controversial or problematic? Doesn’t almost every country in the world try to provide an education for children? Hasn’t the UN committed itself to Sustainable Development Goal 4, which is that by 2030 every child in the world can access a free primary and secondary education?
We are a long way from achieving this developmental goal, and the most recent UN data suggests that it could be 2070 before it can be achieved at the current rate of progress. Be that as it may, the very fact that the UN has outlined an aspiration of universal education makes it puzzling why the tiraders would take issue with us providing education.
We do not know where most of the refugee children will end up. Some will undoubtedly go to EU countries. Others may go to countries outside the EU. Still others will be sent back to the countries which they have come from.
Whatever the eventual fate of the children, ensuring that they get an education is absolutely essential. If they end up uneducated and unemployable in the West, then nationals lose a talent and tax pool. Most of these children are very able and very keen to get qualified and become professionals. It is entirely counter productive to make it impossible for this to happen. All it means for refugees settled in the West is that we will create an entirely avoidable self-fulfilling prophecy of immigrants unable to support themselves.
If the children and their families are sent back to their former countries then the problems of employment will be exacerbated. Amongst these children are significant numbers of highly able children who could and should be future professionals, the doctors, lawyers, teachers and others who will enable broken countries to get back on their feet. If they are denied the education which will enable them to contribute positively to the rebuilding of their countries, all we are doing is risking the perpetuation of the instability and structural problems of broken countries.
Educating refugee children is not just an issue about giving the children access to something which they have a right to. It is actually a matter of self interest for those of us in the West. It is in no one’s interest to waste talent and deny the professional career opportunities to young people begging for them.
It is sad that the tiraders cannot see this. However it is equally sad that official governmental and NGO resources seem to be unable to fully address it as well.
We watched a well publicised plan be announced a month ago to get refugee children into Greek schools. It hasn’t progressed as quickly as many has hoped, but there is at least a plan which is being put into place. What many people do not realise is that the plan only focuses on children up to the age of 15. There is no plan for older children. Children between the age of 15 and 18 are effectively being written off as a lost generation which nothing can be done for. Greece just does not have the resources. So unless charities and NGO’s can step in to help these children, they have no hope.
When we talk to educators in Greece they are of the view that the 13 year olds will probably have enough time in Greek schools to be able to access the curriculum and achieve the school leaving certificate which will enable them to go on to further education. (Assuming of course that they are not sent to another country in mid studies and then have to start learning a new language and new educational system). As for older children, everyone admits that its sad. The 14 year olds may be able to learn enough Greek to access the school leaving certificate if they are lucky… but… it is what it is.
We continue to be astonished. With roughly 20,000 children in Greece it means that about 4,000 15 -18 year olds are being written off as a cohort of children that just cannot be helped. Most surprisingly of all, no one seems to be objecting or querying this. We find it absolutely perplexing.
We know from our own experience that its perfectly feasible and possible to engage these children into educational programmes which lead to International Qualifications. We appreciate that the Greek state is in a difficult situation and does not have the resources necessary to do this. But surely there must be other funding bodies able to give the resources necessary to set these courses up. How can it be in 2016 that we can all sit back and accept that the future of 4000 children can be just written off and forgotten about ? Yet walk into any refugee camp in Greece and this is exactly what is happening, except for the adhoc provision which small charities and NGO's can put in place from their limited resources.