Example10 Example11 MCH LSE Refuge City ATH Refugee Info 003
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People Example10

Get to know the newcomers, activists and volunteers we met in Athens, Berlin and London, as they share their personal experiences of refuge, welcome and the digital city.


Natasa

MCH LSE Refuge City ATH 87th Primary 010

Natasa, 87th Experimental Intercultural Primary School
Gazi, Athens, November 2018

The school I work at is called the 87th Experimental Intercultural Primary School of Athens. 'Experimental'... intercultural'... these are mostly just the State's definitions. There’s no difference in the syllabus from a normal school, they just try to define a supposed 'care' for cultural diversity. But this is a fact in education, anyways.

In Athens, there are only three intercultural schools and ours, in particular, has a lot of refugee students. There are many schools that are ‘intercultural’ but they don't have this label. In London, half the school population consists of 'other' ethnic groups but you don't need such a concept. I feel that this labelling is discrimination. And that’s why it’s perceived so negatively by local people, who can't accept that we practice different methods and techniques, sometimes non-formal, to meet the needs of so many diversities.

(Athens)

MCH LSE Refuge City ATH 87th Primary 047

Last year we had a class with students from 13 different ethnic groups. We used to have students mostly from Turkish-speaking minorities and the Albanian Roma community. Then from 2007 we started to have more refugees, mostly Afghanis at the beginning but now also children from Syria, Iraq, Kurdistan, some from Pakistan and Bangladesh, and also Chinese. Most of the kids are between six and 12 years old, but we also have some that are more like 15 or 16, even though our school is only meant for students up to 14 years old. The law says that students belong to classes according to their age, but some high schools have sent back students to us that were 15 saying they 'hadn't learnt Greek.' This illegal stance has been criticised, so there have been some slight changes.

(hospitality)

MCH LSE Refuge City ATH 87th Primary 020

The majority of kids in the school now come from Eleonas camp* through the IOM [International Organisation for Migration]. They bring the kids in four busses and about 70 to 80 come steadily. Many more students are enrolled but some of them have already left Greece or they had to leave the camp. This year we were so happy because there were so many kids that came. The government keeps talking about closing Eleonas, which is practically the only urban camp in Athens, so we have to see what’s going to happen. Do the kids stay here, do they go? There is so much instability of movement, of status issues, of what’s happening with the camp itself. And the aftermath of all this, in many ways, is on us too, right? So, it's super stretchy.

* Government-run refugee camp in Athens

(home, Athens)

MCH LSE Refuge City ATH 87th Primary 050
MCH LSE Refuge City ATH 87th Primary 067

I can count the number of Greek kids in the whole school on my one hand. The people in this neighbourhood don't bring their kids here; they would rather find ways to prove residence in more 'classy' neighbourhoods, like Thisio, so that they can enrol them in other schools. They’ve had many, many problems with us. An ultra far-right local association once came and said, ‘Ah! You are not a clean school. If you become a clean school, we will bring our children here.' We were like, ‘What is a clean school?’ They don't like that the school has become, what they perceive as, a 'ghetto' over time, as it follows its principle of accepting kids in need instead of letting them wander on the streets or in some camp facility. Even some second or third generation Albanians, they feel assimilated and sometimes do not so easily welcome newcomers. They say we don’t teach the kids Greek, which is totally not true. Of course, we teach them Greek!

(hostility)

MCH LSE Refuge City ATH 87th Primary 022

Most of the teachers here have either a Masters or a PhD, and very specialised qualifications, like ‘intercultural theatrical play’. You could say that we are more highly educated than the average teacher. I think the most valuable skill I have is language. For example, when a child is very resistant to building a relationship, being able to speak with them in Turkish or Arabic helps a lot. I've started learning Kurdish and I can understand a bit of Farsi too, which is… it's just so great. Even if I was totally ignorant and never finished any university, this skill would be the most important. But I don't use it so much in class, it's mostly for building connections rather than explaining things.

(solidarity)

MCH LSE Refuge City ATH 87th Primary 054
MCH LSE Refuge City ATH 87th Primary 057

We don't celebrate national holidays with the kids when there is no meaning for them. There is a Greek national holiday on the 25th of March that celebrates the day Greece rose against the Ottoman Empire and became 'liberated'. Half of these kids come from ex-Ottoman regions, so what should we say to them: ‘We are glad that we were liberated from you?’ No, it doesn't make any sense. So instead, we celebrate other events, like Nowruz, the Persian New Year, which is also a big event for Kurds. We danced with green, red and yellow ribbons and it was like a real festival for them because it had meaning for them.

(Athens)

MCH LSE Refuge City ATH 87th Primary 021

I’ve been working here for 12 years and I can’t imagine working in any other school, where parents are more concerned about teaching methods or whatever… I hate that. For children who live in such precarious conditions such as the ones I work with, education itself, learning to read and write, is not the most important thing. It’s about being in an environment where they feel safe and happy and can interact with other kids. One boy’s father came yesterday and said his kid is waking up at six to come to school, he’s so happy to come! There are many kids that come from war zones and have never even been to school, so the impact for them is really big, it’s something stable in their lives. They just need to see and explore everything, they need to try things, they need to play. Our role is to transform their genuine curiosity into a creative base of learning and try sometimes to 'detour' the anger and fury that can lie inside of them because of their recent past. This role of an educator is also like a social worker.

(loss)

MCH LSE Refuge City ATH 87th Primary 035

Update June 2020 — Over one year later, things have rapidly changed. I can't find words to describe the situation, which is beyond insecurity. Cleansing could be the one. Precarious, almost futureless people, seem to be on the run again. During and exactly after the Coronavirus crisis, a major State plan was launched to throw people out of camps and home facilities, a pogrom as we know it. There were demonstrations outside Eleonas Camp, where the best way chosen to force people out was cutting off food... There are about 300 people there, mostly families with our students among them. Us teachers also help by collecting basic needs to bring them, but we know it's not enough and summer is ahead...

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