The Refugee Law provides that all asylum-seeking children have access to primary and secondary education under the same conditions as Cypriot citizens, immediately after applying for asylum and no later than three months from the date of submission of the claim. 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 difficulties faced by families in accessing certain schools, lack of information/timely arrangements, and 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. 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. 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 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 270 children in the Centre, out of which 192 were UASC.
The right of enrolled students to attend secondary education is not affected even when they reach the age of 18. However, 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 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 in Gymnasium and Lyceums, the Ministry of Education has developed transitional classes (i.e., classes of 14 hours of Greek per week as well as selected other subjects), and short classes (i.e., classes where 5 hours of Greek per week are offered). For the school year 2022-2023 the Minister of Education acknowledged that the induction of non-Greek speaking children in the schools needs to be improved and announced a series of additional measures which aim to increase interaction of schools with families of children whose mother language is not Greek, while introducing a more intensive evaluation process of Greek language use and a closer monitoring and reporting on the learning process, progress and learning outcomes. The operation of obligatory classes during the summer break for students whose language capacity has not increased according to set targets is also proposed. Further monitoring of the implementation of those measures is required.
In the context of primary education, additional hours of Greek language learning are also arranged at schools where the number of non-Greek speaking children is 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.
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 institution, 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 a number of free placements for English-taught classes for free, to refugees and asylum seekers, leading to 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 identifying and addressing 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 a lack of follow-up procedures after the identification of vulnerabilities, which could 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 are not placed in school, and the same will apply to children who are close to 18. Instead, they are referred to 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 (approximately 9-12 years old), Gymnasium (middle school) and Lyceums (high school). For the 1st – 3rd year of primary school (approximately 6-8 years old), there were no daily online classes, but learning materials were sent to parents or online meetings were arranged one to two 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 an internet connection), and the lack of adequate familiarisation with Cypriot education system.
From April 2021 onwards, the situation returned to normal, and children went back to school in person.
 Article 9H(1) and (3)(a) Refugee Law.
 Article 9H(1) Refugee Law.
 Article 9H(2) Refugee Law.
 Δήλωση του Υπουργού Παιδείας, Αθλητισμού και Νεολαίας για την ενίσχυση των διαδικασιών υποδοχής και ομαλής ένταξης των μαθητών/τριών με μεταναστευτική βιογραφία και της ελληνομάθειας, available at: https://bit.ly/3JqOA5z.
 Information provided by CyRC.