Monday, January 25, 2016

Albanian Schools Struggle to Reabsorb Returning Pupils

Schools are facing a challenge dealing with thousands of children whose parents took them out of Albania on failed missions to obtain asylum in Western Europe.

Fatjona Mejdini
Albanians at Tirana airport after being repatriated from Germany | Photo: BIRN/Ivana Dervishi

Albania's schools are struggling to re-absorb thousands of children whose studies were interrupted when their parents took them to Western Europe in the hope of claiming asylum.

Data from the EU statistics body Eurostat shows that 26,790 Albanian children under the age of 17 left the country over the last two years after their families left and tried to gain asylum, mainly in Germany.

From 2014 to 2015, the number of asylum requests made in the EU in the name of Albanian children rose from 5,400 to 21,390.

Now that Germany has closed its doors to asylum seekers from Albania, however, thousands of children alongside their families are being repatriated every day - and returned to school.

During the long months of entering asylum procedures abroad, they were placed in kindergartens and schools, following foreign language courses.

Their return to the Albanian educational system is challenging for both parties.

Albania's Deputy Education Minister, Nora Malaj, told BIRN that the ministry had sent all schools at the end of last year detailed regulations advising principals on how to take the necessary steps for their quick adjustment.

"We are offering schools that have returned students extra programs and lesson hours in order to catch up with what they have lost," Malaj said.

But besides academic help, psychological help is also being provided for children who have returned to Albanian schools.

"We are trying to make them feel welcome, especially the children in middle school, as they might be more sensitive to the changed environment," Malaj said.

The Ministry of Education and other institutions are compiling a database of returned children, which will also help identify all those that did not return to school.

Albanians were the largest single national group seeking asylum in Germany after Syrians last year, according to a German report.

Some 54,762 Albanian sought asylum in 2015 although many have since headed back home after Germany classified Albania as a "safe" country of origin last October.

Since then, Albanians have been categorized as "economic" asylum seekers and thus not entitled to stay longer in Germany.

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