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 three months from the date of submission. 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 three months, mainly due to the difficulties that families face in accessing certain schools, the lack of information/timely arrangements, and the limited school capacities to accommodate additional students etc. There is also a lack of official data on dropout rates regarding asylum-seeking children.
The Refugee Law allows for education arrangements to be provided in the reception centre; however, children residing in Kofinou Reception Centre attend regular schools in the community.
Children in the Centre attend primary and high school in the community. In respect of the primary school, which is located in the same village as the Centre, an interpreter for Arabic currently offers services in the school, following a relevant request from the school administration to the Ministry of Education. No racist or discrimination incidents were recorded and the integration of minors in schools is reported, overall, as satisfactory by residents.
As previously mentioned, during 2020, schools suspended operations for prolonged periods of time(including those attended by children residing in the centre due to COVID-19 measures. From April 2021 onwards, children were able to attend school in person, under the same provisions applying to the rest of the student population.
Children in the First Reception Centre, Pournara, do not attend school, regardless of the time they remain in the Centre. Prior to 2020, this was not considered an issue, as the majority of persons exited the Centre within 7-10 days. However, since 2020, the period of stay is at least two months with no facilitation of any form of education for children. At time of publication, there were 354 children in the Centre, out of which 302 were UASC.
The right of enrolled students to attend secondary education is not affected even when they reach the age of 18. However, also considering that the last three years of secondary education are non-obligatory, almost all new students above 18 years of age wishing to enrol for the first time in secondary education, are denied access to free public schools by the Ministry of Education. Cyprus Refugee Council’s interventions for specific cases have resulted in enrolment, but the overall situation remains.
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 the need to attend 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 secondary education. 23 gymnasiums and 3 lyceums offer classes of 16 hours of Greek per week, as well as extra classes for maths, physics, and biology. A smaller number of hours of Greek is offered in 6 more Gymnasiums and 2 lyceums. Classes take place in appointed public schools in each district. Greek classes tailored to the needs of non-Greek speakers are mostly offered separately while asylum seeking students attend mainstream classes at all other times.
In the context of primary education, two additional books for learning Greek as a second language were disseminated by the Ministry of Education in 2019 to all enrolled children with a migration background. Additional hours of Greek language learning were arranged at schools where the number of non-Greek speaking children was deemed particularly high.
Students are expected to succeed in the final exams to proceed to the next grade. Students of 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) or other EU-funded arrangements.
At the time of the publication, additional measures for reinforcing non-Greek speaking students’ learning were announced. Further monitoring of their implementation is required.
Linguistic and cultural barriers are still significant obstacles for young students, especially those entering secondary education. In 2018, in an effort to provide options for young students, UNHCR in collaboration with KASA, a private educational organisation, concluded a Memorandum of Understanding to jointly work on the protection of refugee children in the Republic of Cyprus by ensuring them access to quality learning, education, and skill-building opportunities. Under this agreement, KASA offered places to refugees and asylum seekers who wished to obtain a high school diploma. Interested individuals aged 16 years or above with a good command of English were eligible to apply and, if selected, attend the programme – following a test and interview. The duration of the programme was a minimum of three years of study, leading to a recognised high school diploma. This program was concluded in 2021. It was the only programme offering free classes leading to high school diploma available to adult refugees. Up to now, no similar initiative was announced.
The provisions of the Refugee Law regarding the identification and addressing of special reception needs are not sufficiently met in the case of minors who exit Pournara Centre with their families and reside in the community. This is due to lack of follow-up procedures after the identification of vulnerabilities, which can ensure timely and comprehensive interventions and support, after exiting the Centre. Therefore, 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); and placement in alternatives to school settings.
Assessing the needs of children in an adequate manner is time-consuming. 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.
Children entering UASC shelters in the middle of a school year will not be placed in school, and the same will apply to children who are close to 18. Instead, they are referred to attend evening classes which include Greek, English or French language, mathematics, and computer studies at the State Institutes of Further Education. Those Institutes operate under the Ministry of Education, mainly as lifelong learning institutions.
Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, schools remained closed for prolonged periods. Classes were systematically delivered online for 4th to 6th year of primary school, Gymnasium (middle school) and Lyceums (high school). For the 1st – 3rd year of primary school, there were no daily online lessons but lesson materials were sent to parents or online meeting were arranged 1-2 times per week depending on each schools’ arrangements. Asylum seeking children, especially those in the first classes or recent arrivals, faced significant obstacles in effectively accessing education during this time, mainly due to linguistic barriers, unfamiliarity with online learning, an inability to access the necessary digital means (tablets were provided by the Ministry of Interior but households often do not have internet connection), and the lack of adequate familiarisation with Cypriot education system.
From April 2021 onwards, the situation returned to normal, and children have been attending school in person. However, there are still measures in place for children who contract COVID-19 or who are close contacts to someone who had COVID-19 and in such cases they were obliged to stay at home and attend school online, which raised issues regarding effective access to online learning.
 Article 9H(1) and (3)(a) Refugee Law.
 Article 9H(1) Refugee Law.
 Article 9H(2) Refugee Law.