Refugee school gives respite to children in Greek camps

Nearly 150 children are able to escape from the harsh conditions of refugee camps at the volunteer-run school in Chios.

Nick Paleologos, Patrick Strickland | | Humanitarian crises, Refugees, Greece

Chios, Greece - A group of Syrian children walk along the pavement and make their way to school. With each coffee shop they pass, they cheerfully shout "Kalimera" - Greek for "Good morning" - in unison. 

Several smiling locals wish them a good morning in return. 

Across the street, a Romanian coastguard ship - part of Frontex, the European Union's border agency - creeps across the harbour, patrolling the waters for boats carrying refugees. 

The children are heading to Refugee School Chios, a volunteer-run initiative that provides part-time classes for nearly 150 children living in the nearby refugee camp Vial and the informal Dipethe camp, located in a deserted municipal theatre. 

Most of the teachers are Syrian, Iraqi and Afghan refugees who used to teach back in their home countries.

"Providing kids with two days of school is not a success," the school's Nick Millet, 25, told Al Jazeera.

"These kids should be in school five days a week. Some of them have never been to school or have been out for up to three years." 

Of the estimated 57,000 refugees and migrants bottlenecked in Greece since Macedonia closed its border in March, more than half are children and women, according to the International Rescue Committee. 


READ MORE: Refugees in Chios fear violence from far-right


Since the European Union and Turkey struck a deal in March to halt the flow of refugees to Europe, those fleeing war and economic devastation are left with the options of applying for asylum in Greece or returning to Turkey to continue the asylum and relocation process from there. 

More than 8,400 refugees and migrants live in official and impromptu camps on the Greek islands, George Kiritsis, the Greek government's refugee affairs spokesperson, told Al Jazeera 

More than 3,000 live in Chios, where a small group of local right-wing activists have protested against and attacked refugees and volunteers in recent months.

Anger has also grown in the camps on Chios as people grow frustrated with the slow asylum registration process. On a handful of occasions, there have been violent clashes between Afghan and Syrian refugees. 

They are barred from travelling to mainland Greece without police permission until their asylum process is completed. 

All photos by SOOC's Nick Paleologos. Text and captions by Patrick Strickland. 

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