THESSALONIKI: Police in a northern Greek village escorted refugee children to school Monday, as local parents protested the launch of a national programme to educate migrant youngsters.
Around 100 police formed a corridor to enable some 40 puzzled-looking children from Syria and Afghanistan to enter the school at Profitis, a village a few kilometres (miles) north of Thessaloniki.
A similar number of parents — who had earlier padlocked the school gate — waved Greek flags and hurled insults at local education authorities.
“Our children will be raped and then, who will take responsibility?” one parent shouted.
“We are told these children have been vaccinated but we don’t believe them,” another said.
Some 1,500 refugee children attended classes in some 20 schools nationwide Monday, the first day of an education initiative set to include thousands of minors from war-torn regions.
Police said there were no similar incidents in the other schools where the plan was piloted.
Afternoon classes are being held in schools in greater Athens, the region in and around Thessaloniki, and other parts of the country.
No child will be allowed to join the programme without prior vaccination, officials have stressed.
Eventually over 10,000 children are to be part of the programme by the end of the month, according to the education ministry.
The Greek government had initially said it would enroll some 18,000 migrant children in schools from the end of September.
But last month parents in Oreokastro, a district near Thessaloniki, said they would not allow refugee children in their schools for health reasons, a stance condemned by the government.
Over 60,000 refugees and migrants are currently stuck in Greece after several European states further north shut their borders earlier this year.
They include thousands of Syrians fleeing civil war who are waiting for asylum approval or relocation elsewhere in the European Union.
But that procedure has been held up by the reluctance of many EU states to accept Muslim refugees after a spate of jihadist attacks in Belgium, France and Germany this year.