The Refugee Law provides that all asylum seeking children have access to primary and secondary education under the same conditions that apply to Cypriot citizens, immediately after applying for asylum and no later than 3 months from the date of submission.1 In practice, the vast majority of children access public education, However as there is no systematic monitoring of children’s registration at school, there have been cases of children remaining out of the education system for more than 3 months, mainly for reasons related to difficulty of families accessing certain schools, lack of information / timely arrangements, limited schools’ capacity at a given period to accommodate additional students etc. There is also a lack of official data on dropout rates regarding asylum-seeking children.
Children residing in the reception centre were attending regular schools in the community, however this long-established practice changed for high school students as of the beginning of 2017. Article 9H(1) of the amended Refugee Law allows for education arrangements to be provided in the reception centre and such arrangements have already commenced following an incident of discourse between students in a local school where residents of Kofinou Centre attend. Therefore, at the moment, a small but growing number of children are attending 3 periods of Greek classes per day in the Kofinou Reception Centre without being enrolled in the nearby schools.
The right of enrolled students to attend secondary education is not affected by reaching the age of 18.2 However new students over 18 years old who wish to enrol for the first time in secondary education, are denied access to free public schools by the Ministry of Education.
The age of students and their previous academic level is taken into consideration when deciding the grade where they will be registered. Classes at public schools are taught in Greek. Should they wish to attend a private school (usually for reasons of attending courses in English) it is possible at their own cost. The provisions for children asylum seekers are the same as for every non-Greek speaking student. In order to deal with the language barrier, the Ministry of Education has developed transitional classes for non-Greek speakers in the first 3 years of secondary education (gymnasium) where 18 hours of Greek per week are provided. In the last 3 years of secondary education (lyceum) 4 extra hours of Greek per week will be provided. Classes take place in appointed public schools in each district. With the exception of the Greek classes which are tailored to the needs of non-Greek speakers, asylum-seeking students attend mainstream classes at all other times.
Students are expected to succeed in the final exams in order to proceed to the next grade. Students at the age of 15 and above may also attend evening Greek classes offered by the Ministry of Education in the community through life-learning schemes (Adult Education Centres and State Institutes of Further Education).
Linguistic and cultural barriers are still significant obstacles for young students, especially those entering secondary education. Transportation to school is still an issue of concern due to the introduction of fare charges for students. Considering the very limited resources allocated to asylum seekers’ families this presents a challenge. Currently the most frequently reported obstacle in accessing education is the difficulty covering everyday expenses of the children, predominately transportation, clothes etc.
As currently, the provisions of the amended Refugee Law regarding the identification and address of special reception needs are not implemented yet, there is no preliminary monitoring or assessment of the vulnerability of the children. Special needs of students are usually evaluated and taken into consideration by the Ministry of Education upon registration into schools, and sometimes through the intervention of NGOs. Depending on the nature and the seriousness of the disability, different arrangements are offered. The available schemes by the Ministry of Education for students with special needs are: placement in a regular class and provision of additional aid; placement in a special unit which operates within the regular school; placement in a special school (for more severe cases); placement in alternatives to school settings.
Adequately assessing the needs of children is time-consuming, and in addition there is often the need to receive important treatments (physiotherapy, occupational therapy, speech therapy) outside of the school context (in public hospital or privately). There are often delays and/or financial constraints in accessing these services.
In the case of unaccompanied children who reside in the youth homes under the guardianship of Welfare Services, a special educational programme operates, focusing mainly on Greek and English language acquisition. This programme is implemented within appointed schools in the community. However, currently the majority of the children at all three cities where unaccompanied children reside, are not enrolled. This is due to lack of timely arrangements regarding available space, teaching staff and resources on behalf of the Ministry of Education.