Education basic right, even for immigrants

The Interior Ministry looks set to pass a legislative amendment giving illegal immigrant children the right to attend school in Greece, following a move by the State Ombudsman. The problem arose after the Interior Ministry sent a circular to the Education Ministry stating that foreigners who had no residence permit or who had not applied for one, could not send their children to school. The Ombudsman drew the Interior Ministry’s attention to the «extremely unfortunate repercussions for a large number of children whose immigrant parents had not managed to secure legal residence in Greece.» The Ombudsman pointed out that this was contrary to the Constitution, the International Treaty on Children’s Rights and national legislation. A meeting scheduled for last Monday between Interior Minister Costas Skandalidis and the Ombudsman to find a mutually acceptable solution to the problem was postponed and no new date has been set. Despite repeated attempts by the Ombudsman, the Interior Ministry has until now insisted on upholding the ruling, expressing concern that a change in the law could lead to the indirect legalization of the immigrants’ status, undermine the State’s immigration policy, and create two categories of immigrants. The ministry’s more fundamental concern, based on its experience with handling similar situations, was that illegal immigrants might exploit the fact that their children were in school to claim continued residence for humanitarian reasons. The ministry also points out that it could lead to a new influx of illegal immigrants hoping that if their children got into Greek schools, this would raise their hopes of legalizing their status. The Ombudsman, however, has cited not only national and international legislation but the fact that attendance at Greek schools did not in itself give people the right to acquire a residence permit on humanitarian grounds. The ministry’s initial fears now appear to have been appeased, chiefly on the issue of whether it is preferable to have these children – who are in Greece in any case until, and if, their parents are deported – inside a classroom or in another environment that is inappropriate for their age, which would deprive them of even a limited access to an education. It appears that the classroom has won, with the proviso that school attendance does not automatically qualify the children for residence permits and does not exclude them from deportation if their parents’ application for residence status is rejected.