A school desk for Rateb

Child refugees' difficult integration in the national school system

“Only 40 of 2 thousand child refugees in Bulgaria go to school”: was the cry of alarm of Nikolaj Cirpanliev, president of the National Refugees Agency, during a panel speech at the meeting on “Access of child refugees to Bulgaria’s education system”, organized by Caritas in cooperation with the Administration of the President of the Republic a few days ago. The situation has a number of causes. After the massive wave of Syrian refugees to Bulgaria, begun in the summer 2013, for whose reception the Country was not fully equipped, their integration today, and notably children’s access to school, is a primary issue. A “transit” Country. Cirpanliev explained that children don’t go to school because most refugees “arrive in Bulgaria in the belief that they can proceed to other West European countries, so they don’t deem it necessary to send their children to the Bulgarian school while waiting for their papers to be processed”. But the reality is different. According to Dublin’s regulation, foreigners are compelled to stay in the first EU country of reception. Language barrier. Mindful of the situation, competent authorities and the minister of education of Bulgaria are preparing to welcome 2 thousand children in schools, “their place is there, not behind the fence of reception centres”, said Stanislav Georgiev from the regional Inspectorate of Education in Sofia. He added: “The alternative is risking the segregation of these immigrants”. There are now five places in Sofia where the youths attend Bulgarian language classes . “The language barrier is main problem of their school integration”, pointed out Ivan Ceresciarov from Caritas Sofia. He said that “many of the youths are in classes with children younger than them, and since they find it hard to follow school subjects they eventually loose interest and motivation”. The right path. According to the general secretary of Caritas Bulgaria Emanouil Patascev, “the children’s integration entails their families’ integration within Bulgarian culture and in society as a whole”. “That’s why targeted actions need to be adopted by the State, competent bodies and NGOs”. “Only in this way will we be able to help these children that already have already gone through so many hardships”, he concluded. In the meantime, thanks to European funds, Caritas has prepared teaching aids for the learning of the Bulgarian language and to facilitate school integration, available online on the organization’s website”. A story of suffering. SIR Europe has met one of these youths who arrived as refugees in the European country. They meet at the art therapy class which he attends after the Bulgarian classes at the Integration Centre in Sofia. His name is Rateb Avril, he’s 19, he is a Palestinian from Syria, the oldest of 6 siblings. They lived in the Palestinian neighbourhood of Damascus, Yarmouk camp, devastated by the regular Syrian army in 2012. “Bombs exploded in front of our eyes. Many of my relatives were killed”, he said. They fled – mother and children – from the war to Lebanon, and after having crossed Turkey they reached the Bulgarian border where they were received by Bulgarian immigration authorities. “It was a long journey, we walked for days in the woods, but now it’s over”, Rateb said with a smile, despite his suffered story. Remarkably, these ordeals have not abated him, nor his fulsome optimism and dreams. Making a new start. Rateb would like to study “architecture in Bulgaria and get a new life here with a good job and a family”. In fact, he has a talent for design. He holds in his hands a drawing from the monastery of Rila, one of the most famous places in Bulgaria. “I attend Bulgarian classes morning and evening, after which I attend art therapy atelier to draw”. He said: “I like Bulgarians”, although he has few friends here, “most of whom are members of the local Syrian community”. “That’s why school integration is important, said Marianna Zasceva, expert from the Integration Centre, who believes that “once in the classrooms, refugee children rapidly obtain good school results”. In a few days Rateb’s family will submit a family reunification request for their father, who is still in Damascus. “We are looking forward to a new life together, far from the war”. It’s the dream of the Palestinian boy.

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