By Clive Leviev – Sawyer of The Sofia Globe
The case of the refugee children barred access to the school in the Bulgarian village of Kalishte continues, with the Education Minister confirming that the 12 children still had not been placed in a school.
The incident in Kalishte made headlines on September 15, the first day of the Bulgarian school year, when protesting villagers said they did not want the children admitted and threatened to withdraw their own children if they were.
The fallout from the case includes the State Agency for Refugees filing a charge of racism against the mayor of Kovachevitsa, in whose region Kalishte falls, as well as municipal councillors for their campaign against the children and their families, who are from Afghanistan and Somalia.
Caretaker Education Minister Roumyana Kolarova said on September 20 said that she had written two letters to the State Agency for Refugees requesting information about the case.
“Until now, they have contacted us only by phone, and phone conversations can lead only to uncertainty, that can provoke social unrest. I want to have clarity about what they are requesting,” Kolarova told local radio.
She said that as far as she knew, the agency wanted three of the children to study at a school in Zemen and the other children to the 66th school in Bulgaria’s capital city Sofia.
“So far I have not received any written request,” Kolarova said.
A day earlier, speaking to public broadcaster Bulgarian National Television, she said that unless the proper procedure was followed, there would be no opportunity to prepare either the school or the parents.
“They (the refugee agency) keep us completely in the dark, it is not possible to discuss these things on the phone, there are documents to be signed,” she said.
Separately, on September 21, Bulgarian National Radio reported Boris Chishirkov of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees office in Bulgaria as saying that about 3800 Syrian refugees had arrived in Bulgaria so far in 2014.
About 11 000 refugees came to Bulgaria in 2013, sparking an institutional crisis.
Chishirkov said that he had to commend the State Agency for Refugees, which had succeeded in just a few months in significantly improving housing conditiosn for refugees in Bulgaria.
Compared to 2013, when only about 1200 people could be accommodated and that in difficult conditions, now the agency could host 6000 and that accommodation currently was filled to about 55 per cent, Chishirkov said.
Commenting on the Kalishte case, he said that it showed that there had to be more in-depth dialogue on tolerance and on the topic of why refugees came to the country.
“Obviously we need to continue to talk about the subject. We should talk with the people who are close to the refugee centres. There should be open dialogue.”
He said that what had been seen was very disturbing, especially because it involved children.
“There we have children who are looking for opportunities to return to a normal lifestyle. They spent the summer learning the Bulgarian language, to be in the classroom on September 15.
“To this day, these children are not enrolled in school. The children do not know why they are not in school,” Chishirkov said.