Romani Children Access Education in Greece
07 February 2004
Three years of persistent action by the ERRC and its local partner, the Athens-based non-governmental organisation Greek Helsinki Monitor (GHM) has resulted in the attendance of 14 Romani children in a local school in the Municipality of Spata, just outside of Athens. Since the Romani community was relocated to an area 5 kilometres from the town in October 2000, Romani children have not attended classes, because no school bus has been provided, despite oral assurances by the then-Mayor of Spata. At a meeting on June 5, 2003, the Spata Romani community, the ERRC/GHM, Spata's Mayor Athanassios Tountas, and representatives of the Ministry of Education, the Eastern Attica Prefecture, the Greek Ombudsman's Office and the Prime Minister's Office for Quality of Life unanimously agreed "that a school bus be chartered in order to transport the Romani schoolchildren to the Third Primary School of Spata as well as that the children be provided with school items." Also agreed upon was the establishment of reception classes, vaccination checks for the children and the commencement of a study by the municipality in order to obtain financing for the installation of electricity to the settlement by the Ministry of Interior, as well as for the carrying out of checks for the quality of water provided to the settlement.
With the co-operation of a social worker from the Eastern Attica Prefecture, 14 of the 18 children of primary school age were enrolled in the Third Primary School of Spata. However, on September 11, 2003, the first day of school, Mr Konstantinos Kalogeropoulos, the school's headmaster, informed the ERRC/GHM that the school bus had not appeared and that he had been informed that, although a bus had been chartered to transport ethnic Greek pupils from another area in the vicinity, no such bus had been chartered for the Romani children. The ERRC/GHM informed various media and sensitive politicians of the situation and, on September 12, 2003, a local charter-bus company was contracted to transport the Romani children to and from school, beginning September 15, 2003. On September 15, 2003, when the bus did not arrive to transport the Romani children to school, the ERRC/GHM found that the bus driver had not been informed of the settlement's exact location. At this point, the bus driver asked that the Romani parents escort their children to the intersection about 1.5 kilometres from the settlement, as the road after that was not paved. The Romani parents refused and the company agreed that the bus go into the settlement, though a representative of the company maintained that the company reserved the right to withdraw from the agreement it had signed, as the road leading to the settlement was so bad that it could cause damage to its vehicles. A further two Romani pupils enrolled in school following the commencement of busing to and from the settlement.