How Covid-19 is affecting refugee camps in Greece

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After almost a year WHO declared a global pandemic, working and studying from home has ineluctably became the norm, where we are left without a choice but to acclimate ourselves in the incipient reality. International organisations and government institutions are endeavoring to stop the spread of the virus, which showed limpidly how unprepared they were in case of a global emergency.

The EU did not deal with this crisis as a united community; it proved inefficient and every country member was forced to handle the global health threat by using its own resources. Greece managed to maintain a low infection and death rate, at the same time while it was struggling to keep the financial and the refugee crisis all under control.

Viewed as an entry point to Europe, Greek borders are transpassed and people from the Middle East, South/Central Asia are fleeing war zones with the sole purpose of obtaining asylum and saving themselves and their loved ones. Currently, Greece is hosting more than 50.000 refugees that are unable to leave the country due to travel restrictions.

Covid-19 dividing the world

As a response to the global threat, a delayed mass-digitalisation of social services, including education, was initiated by the government. Without a doubt, this was a necessary act in order for education and work to continue to operate, yet simultaneously it created a dichotomy not only between the privileged and those coming from low-income communities but it also highly affected refugees, who found themselves helpless in this critical moment.

Open Accommodation Facilities (OAFs), or refugee camps as we know them, have not been successful in addressing the basic needs of refugees and their children. Why haven’t the international mainstream media adequately covered this issue?

Aren’t the vulnerable groups the ones who pay the price in every political, economic or health crisis? Shouldn’t their voices and needs be heard just as much, if not louder at a time where humanity and its ethical values are put to test?

The pandemic is stopping education

Evaluating the pre-covid situation, refugee children in Greek camps technically had the right to a national education provided by Greek institutions. Greek camps – in most cases- have organised internal nurseries for children under 6 as well as Greek language lessons, along with math, art, sports, and computer science.

The implementation of a national lockdown and the transition to virtual education contributed to the isolation of young asylum seekers and refugees from the local population. It also developed a system of marginalisation, since Wi-Fi is not accessible in most refugee camps. Once again, in the digital era, lack of information can easily penalise an entire group.

Examining the situation where Wi-Fi is accessible and young children have the possibility to continue their education to a certain extent, it is worth contemplating how this new way of teaching can affect them. Personally, I have been using Zoom and Microsoft Teams as a way to connect with others, stay in touch and complete my work obligations. A video call with a colleague or another individual is sometimes an open window to their home and their lifestyle. In cases like this, it is really unfortunate to connect with young asylum seekers while we are at the comfort of our own home.

Understandably, we need to follow the protocol and keep ourselves as well as the others safe by stopping the spread of the deadly virus. At the same time, an uncomfortable condition is created and the division between those being lucky enough to have a home and a stable internet connection and those who see this as a luxury is strengthened. Even in times where self-isolation is required for our safety, refugees need to co-exist with others in limited space, where they are unable to protect themselves fully.

Ghettoisation of refugee population

Monday 11th of January marked the day that Greek students returned back to school, but this doesn’t mean that refugee children could resume their education. Due to the fact that most of these children had been unsuccessful to register in the beginning of the school year and also that they had not been following the virtual courses, going back to school is a challenge. For them, it as an unknown territory, where they do not get the understanding and the attention they need. Therefore, they are not yet capable of following the courses, engaging, socialising and integrating in the society.

The way that the pandemic is being managed, seems to be now seeking to normalise the exclusion of refugee children from school by establishing a situation where refugee children are systematically not accepted inside the educational institutions. This undoubtedly leads to ghettoisation and to a new norm, where education is not considered a priority for the refugee population.

Admittedly, power is being exercised by individuals whose decisions are undermining children’s right to education. The new policies being implemented are resulting in refugees stuck under perpetual lockdown and this portrays a clear view of minimising the value of basic human rights.

According to an article on, teachers in refugee camps but also in public schools are united against these rules that marginalise young asylum seekers. They are demonstrating and denouncing policies that keep this vulnerable group out of school and contribute to social alienation. They emphasise the dire consequences that these actions can have for the whole society.

The Greek government appears to celebrate this ‘’success story’’ of keeping death rates at a minimum, compared with other European countries. However, can this be considered a success if global pandemic is hitting even harder the refugee population in the country, and consequently it is disrupting the education of young refugees?

Specifically, the international comunity has urged Greek authorities to decongest the islands and provide better living standards for the refugees. Reception and Identification Centers (RIC) on the Aegean Islands are notorious for their poor living conditions. In tents, refugees are located extremely close to one another, with very restricted access to running water, sanitation and hygiene facilities, food, electric power, and medical care, where it is clear that preventive and protective measures against the pandemic are not being taken.

The situation before covid-19 allowed refugees to move between the OAFs and the other countries with little or no restrictions at all – this didn’t happen in some camps on the islands that were considered ‘hotspot’ facilities and had stringent regulation. Now, they do not have the same travel rules in order to prevent the spread of the virus. Instead of feeling safe and well-protected, since they are isolated in camps, most of the refugees are living in inhuman conditions and therefore, education seems to be considered a luxury among them.

The Greek government has been quick to impose disproportionate regulations on the disadvantaged group of refugees in the name of public health and security, while not doing enough to guarantee that they have access to basic rights, such as continuing their education. That being said, it should be noted that it is a colossal task for a small country to navigate the financial and refugee crisis, the growing political instability at the border as well as the global pandemic.

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