School in northern Greece a flashpoint in refugee debate

School in northern Greece a flashpoint in refugee debate

Greece's left-wing government on Tuesday criticized a parents association which is threatening to block refugees and migrants from attending an elementary school in the north of the country.

The parents association of the school in the town of Oraiokastro said its members would occupy the building in protest if refugees from nearby camps were allowed to attend.

Greek schools started Monday and the government is planning to integrate more than 15,000 refugee and migrant children into the national education system, starting at the end of the month.

It was not immediately clear how many refugee and migrant children were planned for the school in Oraiokastro.

Nikos Filis, the education minister, criticized the parents association but did not say whether the government would take action against it.

“There is no justification for this. There is prejudice,” Filis told private Real FM radio. “Fortunately this is the reaction of a very small minority of parents.”

Health concerns were unjustified, he said, since an immunization program is included in the school integration scheme.

The extreme-right Golden Dawn party praised the parents' action as “resistance to Islamization and efforts to undermine the education system.”

Some 60,000 refugees and migrants remain stranded in Greece due to European border closures earlier this year – most living in camps on the Greek mainland – at old army bases, abandoned factories, and a dilapidated sports complex used for the 2004 Athens Olympics.

The government has promised to create more permanent structures for migrant accommodation as Europe Union countries have failed to keep up with relocation commitments.

Refugees and migrants continue to travel from Turkey to Greece – though in lower numbers – following a March agreement to fight trafficking and deport new arrivals.

Greek authorities said 183 people had arrived on Greek islands from the Turkish coast in the 24 hours from early Monday morning to early Tuesday morning. Last year, thousands were arriving each day.

On Tuesday, a wooden sailboat carrying 49 migrants arrived safely at the Greek island of Samos under escort by the Greek coast guard and European border patrol agency Frontex, the coast guard said.

The nationalities of those on board were not immediately available.


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