Essay-writing pupils slam racism

A large segment of Greek society is mistrustful and condescending toward immigrants but also hypocritical as they make use of their services, according to schoolchildren who participated in an essay-writing competition organized by the Athens office of the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR). «With my essay I wanted to respond to fellow pupils whose behavior toward foreign children is racist,» 16-year-old Maria-Anastassia Louka from Lamia told Kathimerini. According to Louka, who won the prize for the best essay, Greek schoolboys harass female immigrants in the classroom and in the schoolyard «because they see them as easy targets and do not respect them.» Older Greeks are also mistrustful of foreigners, Louka says. «Immigrants want to create relationships with us but Greeks keep their distance,» Louka said, adding that there is widespread hypocrisy. «Everyone secretly buys from the Chinese because their goods are cheap,» she said. Other pupils used their essays to stress the value of the different outlook and experience of immigrants. «We have a lot to learn from immigrants,» said Iliana Kyriazidou from Kavala. «When they tell us stories about their homeland we all sit and listen, even those who bully them.» Eleftheria Tsaknaki drew the inspiration for her piece from the story of her schoolfriend Adina who set off for Greece from Kurdistan but whose father died during the exhausting trip. «I want to appeal to the government to listen to political refugees and not abandon them to an uncertain fate,» Tsaknaki said. Perhaps the most poignant observation was by 12-year-old Yiannis Petkanis. «I saw migratory birds flying south for the winter and thought that refugees are like this but unfortunately they don't have the same freedom to return to their native country however homesick they may feel.» The UNHCR is pleased with the response to its competition. «We are pleasantly surprised as we see that the children are increasingly informed every year,» UNHCR's information officer Stella Nanou told Kathimerini, adding that many of the entrants expressed an interest in working as volunteers at refugee support centers.