Children gathered for a class under a tent at the Oraiokastro refugeee camp. Jihan Sheikh Mohammed saish she would prefeter that her 9-year-old daughet attend a local school rather than receive the makeshift lesson on site. Credit Angelos Tzortzinis for the New York Times

The journey of 9-year-old Mariya bint Loqman from Syria to Europe is emblematic of journeys taken by thousands of refugees fleeing the ravages of war in the Middle East. Touching ground in Greece after a perilous boat ride across the Aegean Sea from Turkey led Mariya to a shabby refugee camp run by the state. In the confines of this temporary haven, only bare necessities were available to her and education was not one of them. When the Greek government decided to provide Mariya, together with 22,000 other children an opportunity to attend public school, the plan faced intense opposition from the local residents. (The New York Times).

In many countries across Europe that have received an influx of immigrants, there has been a stiff resistance against assimilating these refugees into the society. In the case of Greece, it is parents in various school communities that have waged the fight against admitting  children like Mariya into public schools. In his article published on September 25, Niki Kitsantinos of the New York Times noted the openly discriminatory statements that cited the fear of contagious diseases from the refugee children. The parents also claimed that cultural differences would disrupt the learning process of their own children in the schools. A letter addressed to the Education Ministry in the town of Filippiada stated, “They come from another continent with completely different diseases and health conditions.”

There is a small minority of residents that speak in favor of enrolling the migrants, arguing that neighborhoods and schools lack the right to decide who should or should not be accepted. The voices of these minorities are often outnumbered, but some, like Katerina Karanikolaou, observe that the health concerns raised by the residents are only smoke screens underneath which xenophobia thrives. In Canada, roughly 5000 miles West of Greece, children such as Mariya are getting much more than the average refugee resettlement package. The Guardian explores Canada’s scheme to integrate refugees in an article published on September 26, titled “Canadians are embracing Syrian Refugees. Why Can’t We?”

Over 30,000 Syrians have been relocated to Canada, a country christened the immigration jackpot. The government does not settle migrants in camps, but across major cities and large towns.  In addition, over 300 communities across the country have pulled in efforts to provide housing, English lessons, courses in driving and Canadian traditions such as potluck dinners and poutine. Most of these efforts to integrate refugees are driven by families in smaller places like Nova Scotia where they are offered both financial support and friendship. This outpouring of passion is largely attributed to the body of a three year old boy called Alan Kurdi  that washed up on a Turkish beach after he drowned in a capsized vessel that was crossing the sea from Syria.

Islamaphobia, across European countries like Greece, continues to deepen, but stories of people that choose to read from a different script across Canada, are pivotal in addressing the plight of refugees. For now, thousands of children like Mirya are still in dire need of psychological and educational interventions.

References

The Guardian, Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/sep/27/canadians-are-embracing-syrian-refugees-why-cant-we

The New York Times. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2016/09/26/world/europe/greece-migrant-children-school.html

The Guardian. Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/dec/31/alan-kurdi-death-canada-refugee-policy-syria-boy-beach-turkey-photo

 

 

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