For students in Serbia the new school year started on the first of September. Among them over 150¹ school-aged Asylum seekers and people on the move who are currently accommodated in camps in Serbia are enrolled for the next term. In around 50 regular elementary schools all over Serbia they participate in classes since last week together with the local children.
According to UNHCR almost half of the 4000 people registered in Serbia’s asylum and temporary centers* are children, 1500 of them in school-age. Last year just a couple of the kids attended schools, this year much more, but out the of for this year planned 800 school enrollments only 150 children are actually going to school so far.
The chosen schools are located close to the camps. SCRM (“Serbian Commissioner for refugees and migrants”) is responsible for the transportation between the centers and the different schools, providing lunch boxes and supported by some NGO’s equipment and materials which the students need. As it is all regular local schools and therefore the lessons just held in Serbian, the attempt is to give a special training to English teachers who should join the classes as interpretors and translate Serbian to English for those who do not speak Serbian. However also many of these kids do not speak English as well and there is anyway a lack of English teachers and not at all enough translators to cover all the lessons. Pupils report that they are sent to the classes without interpretor no matter if they understand or speak Serbian which is OK in subjects as maths, art or foreign languages but difficult in many other lessons. Some NGO’s and volunteers offer extra Serbian language classes but as they are only active in Belgrade and a very few camps just a minority of the students has the chance to make use of that.
Not only the limited number of enrolled students and the language barriers already became apparent. The public reaction on locals and migrants joining the same classes is alarming!
In Visnjicevo, a small town with less then 2000 residents, about 200 locals protested in front of a primary school where now kids who are living in the camp in Adasevci are going to school. It were parents of the school’s pupils and other locals who wanted to reported their “concerns” about refugees going to this school, presenting themselves as “neither racists nor fascists”, just “worried parents” but arguing with “worries about the hygiene and safety of their children”.²
Visnjicevo is in West-Serbia close to the transit center in Adasevci* where after the camp in Krnjaca* the biggest number of school-aged children are staying.
Also in other schools for example in Belgrade parents were raising concerns such as worries that teachers might focus more migrant kids then other students due to language problems and therefore neglect the local children.
*There are five “Asylum centers” (AC) in Serbia and 13 temporary centers called “Transit centers”(TC) or “Reception centers”(RC): map of all refugee camps in Serbia (July 2017)