Challenging contradictions: education and integration in a refugee camp setting.


The ‘refugee problem’ has become one of the defining issues of the contemporary era, cutting across the domains of state sovereignty, citizenship, human rights, migration, humanitarianism, the welfare state, multiculturalism and international relations. Defining this complex web of inter-related contexts and concerns as a ‘problem’, however, implies that there is in fact a solution, a policy, process or practice that, if universally adopted, would untie the various strands outlined above to the satisfaction of all parties involved.

As in other policy areas, handling the arrival of potential asylum-seekers in Europe is at best a form of ‘muddling through’ with the focus on ‘managing’ the issue, to use a term popular among policymakers. The refugee camp is the very embodiment of this management approach; a temporary solution, a space where the web of concerns are not negotiated but indefinitely deferred. Across the world, millions of people are contained in one form of camp or another. These camps vary in size, layout, structure and function, but are united in their spatial segregation from host societies and their inherent temporality.

The camp itself is a layered and complex object of anthropological and sociological study, a house with many windows through which the social structures and realities of the camp can be observed. Education is one such window, framed by discourses of human rights, citizenship, cultural norms and values, and social integration. This study will critically examine the camp through the prism of education.

The majority of academic literature in this domain focusses on education provision in refugee camps located in the Global South. This study will draw on this body of knowledge, but retain as its focus the refugee camps within the borders of Europe, specifically those located on the Greek mainland. This dissertation presents a case study of one such camp based on field-research undertaken between January and April 2017.



Scholarship that falls within the domain of refugee studies almost invariably begins with some form of quantitative assessment of the current state of play, some attempt to define the parameters of a global, regional or local ‘refugee crisis’. However, as Malkki points out, ‘refugees do not constitute a naturally self-delimiting domain of anthropological knowledge or object of study’ (1995: 497). Therefore, instead of simply reproducing a set of statistics that are ‘approximate and constantly challenged’ (Agier 2011:19), it is worth attempting to understand the context in which the social category of ‘the refugee’ (to which these statistics pertain) came into being, and how this category has developed over the last seventy years.

The figure of ‘the refugee’ emerged in post-World War II Europe. Malkki acknowledges the ‘danger of Eurocentrism’ (1995: 497) in this assessment, and accepts that the displacement of peoples is hardly a modern phenomenon, but nevertheless maintains that ‘the refugee as a specific social category and legal problem of global dimensions did not exist’ (ibid.) before this period. Various scholars concur, affirming that refugees are a ‘peculiarly modern phenomenon’ (Bessel & Haake 2009: 3) that have only become ‘an important problem of international politics’ (Marrus 1985: 5) and thus 'a meaningful category’ (Marfleet 2007:139) in the mid-twentieth century.

The founding of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in 1950 marks a pivotal step in the development of the refugee as a ‘specific social category.’ The UNHCR was founded with the express aim of resettling the ‘final one million’ refugees in Europe, who were considered ‘stateless’ after the Second World War. (Walters & Leblanc 2005:133). Less than a year later, the following definition was agreed upon at the UN Convention in Geneva :

[A refugee is an individual whom] owing to well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality and is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country’ (UNHCR 2010).

Over the course of the decade that followed, the Cold War came to define international relations, and led to a reframing of the refugee issue; the West viewed the arrival of small numbers of political refugees from Communist countries as an ideological coup (Chimni 1998: 350) and strove to present itself as a ‘land of asylum for good victims of communism’ (Brauman 2000: 49).

By the 1960s and 70s however, the refugee issue had migrated to the Global South (Loescher 2014: 216). The UNHCR became directly involved in co-ordinating relief efforts in countries such as Thailand, India, Hong Kong, Malaysia, Tanzania, and Zambia - all neighbouring conflict areas that millions have been forced to flee (Walters & Leblanc 2005:133). These states lacked either the economic capacity or political will to manage the refugee crises that had befallen them – which at this point meant the creation and maintenance of refugee camps. The UNHCR stepped into the breach, and began operating as a ‘pseudo-state’ (ibid: 132), with subjects but without sovereignty, in camps across the Global South. The refugee discourse and the refugee regime that it informed and underpinned were therefore developed in this context. Malkki was able to write in 1995 that ‘it is now taken as axiomatic in much of the sociologically and anthropologically oriented refugee literature that refugees are first and foremost a "Third World problem" or a problem of "developing countries”’ (1995: 503).

Meanwhile in Europe, the situation changed significantly. The ‘rich countries in the West started to defend themselves against immigration’ (Nobel 1998: 19). Fears about increasing numbers of foreigners, and the issues of multiculturalism and integration it begot, as well as stiffer competition in the labour market pushed European countries to wind down guest worker programs in the1980s and tighten immigration legislation (Gibney 2004: 3). Increased numbers of asylum claims, which were an unintended consequence of the tightening of migration legislation (Noiriel, as cited in Agier 2011:34) led to a subsequent tightening of asylum procedure/legislation, with ‘tough and indiscriminate new entry restrictions coming into force’ (Gibney 2004: 3) in what Nobel has described an ‘escalation of unilateral measures against refugees’ (Nobel 1998: 29-30). Through the 1980s and 1990s, as the securitisation of immigration discourse (Buonfino 2004)) continued apace, the asylum process came to be based on the provision of evidence of trauma (Fassin & Rechtman 2009) and characterised by the ‘logic of suspicion’ (Verdirame & Harrell-Bond 2005). Thus, while ostensibly upholding the sacred principal of asylum, European member states slowly hollowed it out from within. Between 1987 and 2007, the asylum applications success rate in France decreased from 80% to just 10% (as cited in Agier 2011: 22) – at which point it becomes legitimate to claim that the Convention of 1951 is being challenged by facts on the ground.

We can thus identify two broad areas of ‘refugee’ discourse. On the one hand, a body of knowledge based around humanitarian intervention, weak or ambivalent states, camps and mass movements of people, built predominantly on experiences in Africa, Asia and Latin America. On the other, a body of knowledge built around the principle of asylum, the processes involved in asylum application, and the integration of refugees into host societies of the Global North. These concentric epistemological spheres help map the academic discipline of refugee studies, but also provide an insight into global refugee governance, uncovering a paradox at the heart of Europe’s ‘schizophrenic’ (Gibney 2004: 2) approach to asylum seekers and refugees. Refugees in the Global South are ignored (Chimni 1998) or ‘managed’ from a distance under the rubric of humanitarian intervention, financed in the most part by institutions or governments of the Global North. Meanwhile, the Global North zealously protects its own borders, acutely aware that the arrival of a large number of refugees from the Global South would force its hand; either it would have to reject the sacred principal of asylum and non-refoulement it has tried to establish as a global norm (McAdam 2014:205), or uphold the principal and watch the asylum framework, and possibly the social fabric of its liberal democracies, collapse under a pressure they were never intended to bear. As Gibney has it, while ‘great importance is attached to the principle of asylum…enormous efforts are made to ensure that refugees never reach the territory of the state where they could receive its protection’ (2004: 2).

The asylum mechanism of the Global North can thus be broken down into two seemingly contradictory components; the first severely restricts access to territory, while the second extends the right to claim asylum to all who reach said territory. Recent events in Greece offer a case study into what happens when the first part of this mechanism breaks down. Between 2014 and 2016, over 1.5 million people arrived on the Greek Islands off the coast of Turkey (UNHCR, n.d). Pushed by conflicts in Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq, as well as instability in Pakistan and Libya, and aided by developments in transportation and communication ‘that lessened the distance’ (Gibney 2004: 4) between the global North and South, a huge number of people arrived on the shores of Europe. Aided by an ambivalent Turkish state and an under-resourced Greek coast guard, the sea border quickly became porous. In October 2015, at the peak of the crisis, over 220,000 people arrived in a single month (UNHCR n.d.).

Europe thus found itself caught in the very predicament it had always striven to avoid. ‘The system of dykes before, at, and after the EU external border – to prevent certain migrants from ever reaching European soil’ had been ‘overwhelmed’ (Guiraudon 2017: 3). Europe thus found itself in the position of having to consider the asylum claims of over one and a half million new arrivals from the Global South. Unsurprisingly, the European asylum framework, predicated upon the reception of a limited number of asylum seekers, rather than a mass influx of people, was unable to cope.

The first stage of the ‘crisis’ was characterised by the swift erosion of solidarity and trust between EU member states. According to the Dublin Agreement (1990, subsequently redrafted in 2003 and 2013) ostensibly designed to prevent ‘asylum shopping’, the logistical burden of assessing asylum claims and granting asylum fell on the country of first arrival (Greece, in this case). This legislation had been used as a final buffer for Northern European member states (Kasparek 2016), a means by which they could legally ‘deport’ asylum seekers to the country of first arrival, i.e the European border states. By 2011, however, due to the ‘failure of the Greek state to establish a functioning asylum system’ (Bank 2014: 694) this practice was outlawed; both the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg and the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg considered deportation to Greece a breach of fundamental human rights (Lavenex, 2015).

Under the terms of the Dublin Agreement, Greece was legally obliged to process the claims of all asylum seekers arriving on its territory; when the relative trickle of new arrivals in 2011 swelled to a tide in 2014, the Dublin system proved completely unworkable (Kasparek 2016). Most new arrivals did not want to claim asylum in Greece; very few spoke Greek, and the lamentable state of the country’s economy meant opportunities to fulfil a dignified life were scarcely better than those in Turkey. For its part, the Greek state lacked the funds, state infrastructure and logistical support, as well as the political will, to adequately process these claims (Antonakaki, Kasparek & Maniatis 2016). Consequently, most would-be asylum seekers headed North along the Balkan route (stretching from Northern Greece to Austria via Hungary or Croatia), encouraged by Merkel’s open borders, and aided by the absence of internal borders between Schengen countries. During the first chapter of the ‘crisis’ Greece was a transit country, to be passed through as quickly as possible in order to reach the promised land of Northern Europe.

It became increasingly clear that the mass movement of people across national borders could not continue indefinitely. The second chapter of the ‘crisis’ began with the closure of Greece’s northern borders and the Balkan route in March 2016, followed by the E.U.-Turkey statement facilitating the return of new arrivals. In total, around 60,000 refugees were trapped in Greece, either on the mainland or on the islands. Greece’s Minister of Migration Ioannis Mouzalas decided to pursue a strategy of scattering small camps all over the country. It came to be known as the ‘refugee archipelago’ – some 46 separate facilities, ranging from disused army barracks and industrial sites to remote villages in the mountains (Howden 2016). The nature of the crisis, and Greece’s role within it, changed significantly. Greece was no longer a transit country to be passed through in a matter of days; the new camps bore testimony to a more ‘permanent temporality’ or ‘frozen transience’ (Bauman, as cited in Diken 2006). One such camp, located in Northern Greece, will be the focus of this study.

These camps, located inside the borders of Europe for only the second time since the end of the Second World War and constructed as an integral part of European asylum policy, embody the convergence of the two bodies of knowledge outlined above. They are a response to a mass displacement of people from the Global South, and sites of humanitarian intervention conducted by NGOs and INGOs, but at the same time function as holding zones and spaces of triage rendered necessary by Europe’s stringent asylum legislation. They are neither temporary nor permanent; their residents are neither granted asylum nor refoulés. In essence, the camps embody a strategy of deferral, Europe’s abject non-solution, to the aforementioned paradox at the heart of the global refugee regime.


In the same way that the term ‘refugee’ does not refer to ‘a naturally self-delineating object of study’ the camps in which many are forced to reside cannot be approached as a monolithic entity. Fundamentally, the camp is the physical manifestation of what Bauman (citing Levi-Strauss) calls an ‘anthropoemic strategy to cope with the otherness of others’. This strategy consists of 'vomiting', spitting out the others seen as incurably strange and alien: barring physical contact, dialogue, social intercourse and all varieties of commercium, commensality or connubium.’ (Bauman 2000: 103) The upgraded, 'refined' (modernized) forms of the 'emic' strategy are spatial separation, urban ghettos, selective access to spaces and selective barring from using them. This spatial segregation is the principal and defining feature of the camp.

The second major feature is that of temporality. ‘Camps exist between the temporary and the permanent. From the outset, camps are understood as having a limited, although sometimes indeterminate, duration (Hailey 2009: 4). In practice, however, this temporality may be called into question as the camps become quasi-permanent – the Palestinian cases offer the most notable example. However, even in such cases, the uncertainty and precariousness that are the main symptoms of temporality remain intact. ‘Neither those in charge of establishing the camps nor those who inhabit them know how long the camp will remain or for how long the individual refugee will stay in the camp’ (Turner 2015: 142).

Beyond the spatial and temporal dimensions, the object of study commonly referred to in academia as ‘the camp’ holds a plurality of meanings. Camps vary enormously in size, location, organisational structure and function – theoretical assumptions that ignore these particularities must be apprehended with a degree of caution; there is no single camp, or camp experience, that can stand in for all others.

In this vein, Agier acknowledges the plurality of ‘the camp/s’, and provides a brief ‘typology’ (though he rejects the term) of the various forms of encampment he encountered in Africa in the late 1990s/early 2000s;

‘Self-organised refuges (cross-border points, informal camp grounds, jungles, ghettos, grey zones, squats….Sorting centres (transit centres, way stations, holding centres, camps for foreigners, waiting zones)…Spaces of confinement (refugee camps UNHCR rural settlements)…Unprotected reserves (camps for IDPs)’ (Agier 2011: 32).

Some of these spaces described above are equally applicable to the European context, as places to contain/detain a section of the population identified as ‘undesirables’ (Agier 2011) for an unspecified period of time. In addition, we can add to this list Welcome Centres, Reception Centres and the euphemistically termed ‘hotspots’- a term that conjures images of wireless internet connections or popular evening venues rather than the sordid reality of squalid conditions and wire fences.

Significantly, evidence from the field supports the assertion that ‘the camp’ is a space that is situated temporally – changes in policy/ events on the ground entail a change in the function/structure/running of the camp space. The camps that are part of the ‘refugee archipelago’ only came into being after the closure of the border; any analysis of Greek camps undertaken before March 2016 necessarily focus on the areas of first arrival or holding zones (such as Moria) on the islands, or on the transitory places of rest established along the Balkan Route – where conditions were very poor, but mitigated to an extent by the exceedingly brief respite taken by those passing through.

Similarly, ‘the camp’ is also situated geographically; the differences between camps in different continents and countries has already been discussed, but even within Greece vast discrepancies can be observed in conditions/organisational structures between sites. For instance, the differences between Elliniko in Athens and Konitsa in the Northern Epirus region, or Lavrio (a Kurdish camp unofficially run by the PKK) and Patras on the West coast are substantial. ‘The camp’ must be approached as a site embedded within a specific set of social, temporal and geographic conditions, rather than a generic term that refers indiscriminately to one and all camps, thereby collapsing all difference.

Despite these specificities and variations, various eminent scholars have drawn together common elements that pervade most encampments in an attempt to ‘theorise the camp’. The most notable of these is Giorgio Agamben. Drawing on the work of Foucault and Arendt, Agamben interrogates notions of ‘state of exception’ ‘sovereignty’ and ‘bare life’ (Agamben, 1998). His strand of thought has significantly influenced academic debate regarding refugee camps over the last two decades. In essence, Agamben affirms that the camp is both the embodiment and the product of the state of exception (state of emergency);

‘The camp is the space that is opened when the state of exception begins to become the rule. In the camp, the state of exception, which was essentially a temporary suspension of the rule of law on the basis of a factual state of danger, is now given a permanent spatial arrangement, which as such nevertheless remains outside the normal order.’ (Agamben, 1998: 95)

While Agamben provides an interesting insight into the concept of the camp, his study is of a philosophical nature; it provides a way of thinking or conceptualising the camp, not an empirical description of the reality. Various scholars (Peteet 2005, Fresia & Van Kanel 2015, Turner 2015, Sigona 2015, Nyers 2006, Owens 2010, Humphreys 2011) critique the framework laid out by Agamben, and are quick to point out that it is necessary to go beyond his abstract theory and ground it empirically to see the nuances in different types of ‘included exclusion’ and ‘explore other ways of being simultaneously inside and outside a state’ (Peteet 2005: 28). Levy argues that Agamben ultimately ‘overly dramatizes the camp and, by doing so, is of little use in understanding the varieties of camps present’ (2010: 100). Fresia & Von Kanel point out that ‘the camp device may not be as monolithic as is often assumed’ and that it is an ‘over-simplification and homogenization of the camp bureaucracy [to reduce it] to one single rationality- one of bare life (2015: 254). Agier argues that Agamben’s reduction of camps to a mere space of death ‘contradicts all studies on the ground in camps today’ (2014: 184). In the same vein, Ramadan points out that ‘studies of real-world refugee camps cannot be reduced to a formulaic reading of spaces of exception filled with silenced, disempowered homines sacri’ (2013:68).

Instead of approaching the camp from a purely philosophical perspective, it is perhaps more useful to interrogate the camp space from a sociological point of view in an attempt to comprehend the purpose, function and the power structures that inform the construction of daily life in the camp (though they are not singular or monolithic, and will differ depending on the camp in question). Here it is essential to refer to the work of Michel Foucault. Sigona outlines two elements of Foucault’s thinking that help inform understanding of the refugee camp.

‘First, social relations are necessarily spatial as individuals do not live in a void, but are inserted into a set of social relations that delineates sites which are neither reducible to, nor superimposable on, one another. Second, power operates spatially, or through the management of spaces.’ (2015: 4)

The first point highlights the fact that the camp cannot be reduced to a space of exception defined by the logic of bare life; instead it is a complex site of social interaction between a range of actors – refugees and various state and non-state authorities who operate within the camp under divergent and sometimes contradictory rationalities. To simplify this network of interaction to a straightforward narrative of absolute exclusion is to ignore the social reality of the camps.

That being said, the space itself is not the ‘innocent’ and ‘depoliticised’ context of social interactions (Soja 1989) but instead reflects, reproduces, structures and sustains the social interactions that take place within it. In the context of the camps, exclusion, isolation, and control structure all social interactions that take place within them, and play a key role in producing and reproducing power-relations and identities of camp residents. The control aspect is of particular relevance here. Agier points out that the management of the camp is characterised by ‘a function of control’ that accompan[ies] that of protection, and very often dominate[s] it (2011: 11) The camp therefore fulfils a dual function; it protects refugees (from hostile citizens) and allows for a greater efficiency in the provision of assistance (medical and legal) and the distribution of basic items (clothing, food) while simultaneously protecting the host state (from the burden on public services incurred by a large influx of people, and the security concerns, both real and imagined) and allowing for the ‘control’ of a mass of displaced people. Whatever one’s opinions on the extent to which these respective logics inform the management of the camp, it is apparent that in fulfilling the second function, the camp is a technology of power – or, in Foucauldian terms, of biopower, that ‘establishes a binary categorization between ‘us’ and ‘them’, or between the ‘normal’ (e.g., legitimate citizens) and the ‘abnormal’ (e.g., illegal immigrants, un-qualified refugees or bogus asylum seekers)’ (Zembylas 2010: 35). Foucault originally analysed how this mechanism of establishing a binary distinction operated in the production of docile bodies in prisons, schools and mental asylums, but the same mechanism can be clearly identified in the refugee camp. Beyond biopower, and returning to Agamben’s reading of Foucault, the camp can also be read as site of biopolitics, in which the principal concern is the regulation of life of populations, ‘not society, nor the individual, but a new body’ (1976:245). Biopolitics ‘embraces all the specific strategies and contestations over problematizations of collective human vitality, morbidity and mortality; over the forms of knowledge, regimes of authority and practices of intervention that are desirable, legitimate and efficacious’ (Rabinow and Rose 2006: 203). It characteristically entails a relation between ‘letting die’ (laissez mourir) and ‘letting live’ (faire vivre) – hence Agamben’s preoccupation with camps as sites defined by the logic of bare life.

What emerges then is a complicated picture. Camps embody a whole range of contradictions – between states, between temporary and permanent, between absolute exclusion and qualified inclusion. The reams of academic literature on the subject typically either adopt a philosophical approach, drawing on Foucault, Agamben and Arendt among others, in which ‘the camp’ is analysed as a singular theoretical concept, and therefore discussed in relation to bare life, sovereignty and citizenship, or deliver a more practical assessment based on a case study of one or several existing camps, analysing a specific domain within said camp; economic activity (Werker 2007), identity politics (Hart 2008), child marriage (De Smedt 1998) or psychological trauma (Rasmussen and Annan 2010). This study aims to follow a ‘middle road’ approach, exemplified by Fresia & Von Kanel (2015), Agier (2011) and Sigona (2015) that engages with and applies the analytical frameworks of the former but retains as its primary focus the practical concerns and lived experiences of the latter.


Education is notoriously difficult to define, and it would be somewhat futile to attempt a precise yet comprehensive definition. Education is typically used to refer to formal education (schooling), a process that begins in early childhood, in which children, adolescents and young adults are taught a curriculum that includes literacy, numeracy and some combination of various other subjects – science, history, geography, foreign languages etc. in formal settings such as school or universities. Though this definition is problematic it informs the most common understanding of ‘education’ as a concept.

Evidently, acknowledging the category of ‘formal education’ implies the existence of ‘informal’ or ‘non-formal’ education – that is, education that takes places outside of the context defined above. There exists a degree of confusion about how these terms are used, but for the purpose of this thesis, informal education shall refer to ‘the lifelong process by which every person acquires and accumulates knowledge, skills, attitudes and insights from daily experiences and exposure to the environment’ (Combs and Ahmed, as cited in LaBelle 1982), where non-formal shall refer to 'any organised, systematic, educational activity carried on outside the framework of the formal system’ (ibid.).

Structured in such a manner, the school is no longer apprehended as the primary site of education per se, but as the principal setting for formal education. Rather than being synonymous with education, schooling is in fact one facet, one column of a wider process in which a society transmits its values, ideas, skills and cultural-historical sense of self to its members. To an extent, education overlaps with socialisation - that is, the ability to or the many different ways and processes by which children come to be able to function as members of their social community (Biesta, G 2007: 3). The purpose here is not to delineate where socialisation ends and education begins but to understand that education cannot be confounded with or reduced to ‘formal education’ – it must be understood as a holistic process that is inextricably tied to societal values, codes of behaviour, and structures of power and knowledge. Indeed, even formal education doesn’t exist in a vacuum – though often centralised and administered by the State, it is informed and structured by all of the above.

In the modern era, formal education (defined in academic terms as 'institutionalized, chronologically graded and hierarchically structured educational system, spanning lower primary school and the upper reaches of the university’ [Combs and Ahmed, as cited in LaBelle 1982]) is intricately linked to the nation-state. Public education (mass-schooling) is key to the operation of the modern state (understood as an ‘imagined political community’) as it creates a ‘common understanding of identity in terms of what is imagined as legitimate expressions of nationalism, patriotism, and economic activity’(Walters & Leblanc 2005: 129). Mass education can thus be read as a form of preparation for citizenship, designed and administered by the state with the express aim of producing citizens who are able to contribute (economically, politically, socially) to society. In essence, ‘the nation and its schools define the “we” that is the citizenship of a modern state’ (ibid). Mass education involves the development of key skills (such as literacy and numeracy) that allow individuals to better negotiate their everyday lives. These skills are also the building blocks of a functioning, democratic state. Beyond (and even within) these key skills, curriculum choices are essentially political, and reflect to varying degrees, the needs of the state and the conditions of society – the extent and content of subjects such as science, religious education, history, politics, philosophy, art etc. typically align with the former and/or are rooted in the latter.

A second major role of mass education is more closely linked with socialisation - the inculcation of norms, values, and accepted behavioural codes. This process of socialisation can take both implicit and explicit forms – teaching children to work together, to tell the truth, to listen to others, to put as much effort as possible into their work are stated and oft-repeated objectives, reinforcing values seen to underpin most liberal societies. More implicit forms include what can be referred to as the ‘hidden curriculum’ which refers to ‘academic, social, and cultural messages that are communicated to students while they are in school, though these messages remain, by definition, obscured or unacknowledged’ (Glossary of Education Reform 2015). The ‘hidden curriculum’ functions in a similar manner to informal education; it is based on every day experience and observation, and operates through a set of power-knowledge relations that structure society, often reifying certain hierarchies and their inbuilt assumptions and prejudices. Examples include perceptions of race, gender and sexuality, but, in a formal education setting, can also refer to how critical thought is rewarded or punished, or the manner in which certain topics (such as evolution or the ‘discovery’ of the New World) are presented.

Mass education varies enormously both within and between states, but the basic functions remain the same. The education systems of the UK and Saudi Arabia, for example are markedly different, but both, in their own way, fulfil the two core functions outlined above. However, it is the role of education outside the nation state that is the main focus of this thesis – education in a refugee camp setting. In such a context, the functions outlined above are either problematic or simply not applicable. The concept of education as a kind of preparation for citizenship is somewhat complicated by the fact that refugees are by definition not citizens of the nation-state in which they find themselves. The UN declaration of Human Rights enshrines the right to a free education for all, but does not specify who will bear the cost of providing it (implicit is the idea that nation-states will pay for their own citizens’ education, and although the same convention states that signatories ‘shall accord to refugees the same treatment as is accorded to nationals with respect to elementary education’ [UNHCR 2010] non-citizens are regularly excluded). Indeed, even the teaching of values and norms is problematic, as many new arrivals are already (to a varying extent) inscribed with the cultural values of their homeland – they are, at least initially, citizens of an elsewhere rather than incipient citizens of the host country. In the Greek context, an additional layer of complexity becomes apparent – many refugees are effectively between three states, past, present and future, country of origin, country of (temporary) residence, and final destination (where many hope to be resettled or reunited with family members). Given this context, the long-term project of forming citizens is stillborn. This situation also problematizes choices regarding language of instruction, curriculum content and the degree of integration attempted – all of which will be discussed in greater detail in the case study below.

In the context of camps, education is particularly problematic. The vast majority of the literature on education provision in a camp setting falls into the first aforementioned epistemological sphere, based on experiences in camps in the Global South where the host state was/is either unwilling or unable to manage or maintain camp facilities. The United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) initially took responsibility for refugee education, but UNCHR ‘took on the mandate for refugee education in an ad hoc manner and then in a more formal way with the signing of a memorandum of understanding with UNESCO in 1967’ (UNESCO & UNHCR 1984). Thus, virtually since the beginning of its involvement in the Global South, the UNHCR has been mandated to provide education as well as food and shelter for refugees, operating as a kind of ‘pseudo-state’ (Walters & Leblanc 2005:132). However, lacking as it does the absolute sovereignty over a territory, it has had to work together with host countries, education ministries, and various (I)NGOs operating in the same domain. The typical nation-state mass-education model of one-to-one (one state working with one relatively homogenous population) thus becomes many-to-many (many organisations working with people from a huge range of backgrounds, with different native tongues and different cultural expectations). Thus ‘issues taken for granted in “normal” societies such as language choice, history, gender, and religion become a focus for contention’ (Walters & Leblanc 2005: 130) between the key actors outlined above.

Until the mid-1980s, education provision was not a priority for the international humanitarian regime; the UNHCR focused predominantly on post-primary education by providing ‘scholarships for an elite few’ (Dryden-Peterson 2016: 477) in line with post-colonial attempts to cultivate an educated governing elite in developing countries. In what Dryden-Peterson has identified as the second phase of global education development (between 1985 and 2011), the Education for All Movement (explored in greater detail below) led to reframing of education as a basic Human Right, and UNHCR led projects to expand access to education, still working almost exclusively in the refugee camps of the Global South. UNHCR policies aligned refugee education as closely as possible to the country of origin, specifically in terms of curriculum and language, with the purpose of facilitating a swift return and enabling future participation in said country of origin (UNHCR 2003). The content of schooling ‘should follow the principle of education for voluntary repatriation, with refugee teachers providing a familiar type of education, using familiar languages of instruction’ (UNHCR as cited in Walters & Leblanc 2005). Such an educational program would ‘contribute to the durable solution of “voluntary repatriation,” through giving children the knowledge, skills and emotional stability to successfully re-enter the education system in their home country’ (ibid.). In the event of delayed repatriation ‘discussion between refugee and host government educationists, regarding the possible introduction of a mixed curriculum which faces both ways’ (ibid.) were to be conducted.

As it became increasingly apparent that most refugees were in a protracted situation (Milner 2014: 160) and would not be returning to their country of origin, the UNHCR issued a new Global Education Strategy (2012) stipulating that the new focus was to be on integration within the host country, thus initiating a third phase of global refugee education policy (Dryden-Peterson 2016). However, this new policy of integration was, and indeed is, regularly challenged by events on the ground; ‘school experiences were frequently in conflict with this policy-level inclusion’ as challenges were ‘spatial, as in camps or separate shifts, but also curricular and relational, often connected to highly politicized tensions between refugees and citizens’(ibid.).

We thus encounter the major contradictions between education provision and the camp space. As we have seen, camps are both temporally and spatially defined; the provision of education complicates both of these aspects. Camps are characterised by a sense of uncertainty – education projects are a symptom of the transience being frozen, the temporary period of residency being extended indefinitely. Unlike other forms of humanitarian intervention, such as food distribution or emergency medical care (that are instantaneous and transactional) education involves a strong social-temporal component, through the formation of meaningful bonds over time between teachers and students. The spatial aspect of segregation is complicated, indeed contradicted, by education projects that are motivated to a lesser or greater extent by a desire to foster integration. Indeed, on a sociological plane, educational programs operating within the camp (or for camp residents) offer an insightful ethnographic site to observe mechanisms of inclusion and exclusion. As inherently social spaces, camp schools or classrooms provide a window to ‘inquire into the multiple logics of governance that characterize the camp’ (Fresia & Von Kanel 2015: 251) bringing into focus how ‘logics of exception articulate with logics of normalization and how socio-political exclusion and confinement of refugees go hand in hand with projects of social transformation and political participation’. Read in this way, education projects and/or camp schools can be said to function as a ‘laboratory of citizenship-making’ that attempt to reincorporate [camp residents] in a ‘normal’ order of things (in the sense of reintegrating them in a national order as well as in a school order) and seek to transform them into ideal participating subjects’ – despite the fact that the camps themselves function as a ‘device of exclusion from the political community of citizens’ (ibid.).

Epstein recognises ‘the shifting and sometimes contradictory discourses about human rights and humanitarian aid, children and childhood, and war and displacement’ that shape international refugee education policy, and notes that they are ‘re-contextualized in the camp’ as they ‘become embedded within regulating frameworks around encampment which have at their moral centers an attendant sedentarism, institutional logic, bureaucratic rationality, rights regimes, and neoliberal political economy’ (2012: 210). Read in this manner, regardless of the humanitarian logic that underpins such interventions, within the camp education is part of a mechanism of biopower that seeks to contain, discipline, and normalize refugees (Epstein 2012; Foucault, 1979; Malkki, 1995; Chimni, 1999).

A third reading of education provision involves the Human Rights discourse referred to above. According to the UN Declaration of Human Rights;

‘Everyone has the right to education. Education shall be free, at least in the elementary and fundamental stages. Elementary education shall be compulsory.’ (UN General Assembly, 1948)

The right to education is one of a set of human rights, conceptualized as rules for normative behaviour and enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Convention on the Rights of the Child (1989). The Education for All movement, leading up to the first World Conference on Education for All in 1990, was built around the practicalities of realising this right, and marked the beginnings of a consensus among nation-states about educational priorities and targets and an unprecedented commitment to coordination among actors to achieve this goal (Mundy 2006: 29). Thus, child victims of war, displaced children and children in camps became new target populations in the race to universalize access to schooling. As a result, ‘in camps children [were] not only healed and fed, but also educated and sensitized in primary and sometimes secondary schools funded, coordinated and formalized’ by the UNHCR and partner agencies (Fresia & Von Kanel 2015: 251). Education came to be recognised not only as a fundamental right in itself, but as a valuable tool to promote peace and stability and as an ‘enabler’ of sorts that allows individuals to understand and ‘act on the rights that they have within the societies in which they exist’ (Lee 2013: 8). Thus, schools are seen as a conduit through which children learn the ‘universal values’ of human rights, acquire the skills to mitigate conflict, and sow the seeds of peace and democracy (Sinclair 2002).

It is therefore evident that education provision in a camp setting cannot simply be reduced to a generic, unproblematic intervention ‘governed by a single humanitarian logic’ (Fresia & Von Kanel 2015: 251). Instead, it is in fact defined by a ‘polyhierarchical administrative structure, within which state and non-state authorities coexist and overlap with sometimes divergent rationalities’ (ibid.). It should also be apparent that the entire academic discourse regarding education in refugee camps belongs to the aforementioned first epistemological sphere, based as it is on experiences in the Global South. This in itself is unsurprising; as has already been discussed, mid-to-long term refugee camps (not deportation centres, holding zones or ‘welcome centres’) situated in the global North are a relatively recent phenomenon, with Calais being the obvious exception. Indeed, the intervention of the UNHCR in Greece marked the first time that the organisation had intervened within the borders of the European Union (Howden, 2017). It would become increasingly clear that, regarding education, the framework devised and developed by the UNHCR and its partner agencies over the course its operations in the Global South was particularly unsuited to the specificities of the Greek context.

The three distinct strands that inform this study (refugees, camps and education) must now be drawn together. The relationship between refugees and camps is self-evident; the latter are spaces explicitly designed to contain the former. The presence of camps within the borders of the European Union, established under the logic of its migration policy, marks a departure from the established norm of the past half century. Europe’s ‘schizophrenic’ approach to refugees becomes explicit, its inherent contradictions impossible to ignore. Education in such circumstances, both in terms of school curricula and the wider transmission of values and behavioural norms, becomes inherently problematic.

In order to effectively analyse how these three aforementioned strands come together in practice, and thus how the refugee camp education model functions, it was necessary to undertake a period of field research in a refugee camp. Although a single case study offers limited scope for critique of a national/supranational policy, it can nonetheless offer an invaluable insight into the effect of such policies on the ground, thus ensuring analysis is rooted in lived experience, rather than mere conjecture. The case study and analysis that follow will identify some of the contradictions outlined above, and explore how the fundamental opposition between education/integration projects and the refugee camp are negotiated, obfuscated or simply ignored.



An ethnographic study was undertaken over a period of four months from January to April 2017 in order to gain a holistic understanding of education in a single camp. Given the non-generalizable nature of the camps (already discussed at length) and temporal and financial constraints, the case study was of an ‘intrinsic’ nature – that is, undertaken to develop a deep understanding of an individual case (Stake 8: 1995). Preliminary online research (GreeceVol) indicated a large number of education projects based in Greece. Enquiries were made with several projects, and a decision was taken based on a range of logistical factors including access to the camp itself, educational needs of camp residents, provision/cost of accommodation, proposed length of stay and the ‘culture’ of the NGO/project. After much consideration, Doliana was eventually selected as the site for the ethnographic study.

Ethnography literally refers to the act of ‘writing a culture’. Ethnographers ‘look for patterns, describe local relationships (formal and informal), understandings and meanings (tacit and explicit) and try to make sense of a place and a case in relation to the entire social setting and all social relationships’ (Parthasarathy 2008: 15). In practice, this typically entails a study conducted ‘over a prolonged period of time by collecting, primarily observational and interview data’ (Creswell 2013:12).

This study involved observation and note-taking, as well as informal semi-structured interviews and discussion. I was able to gain access to the camps as an independent English teacher with Doliana Solidarity Project (DSP), and worked with both children and adults on a daily basis in their respective ‘home’ environments. A strong rapport was quickly established with most families, which gradually developed into a close relationship; I was regularly invited to family ‘homes’ for meals or to drink tea. This allowed for insightful observations to complement those gained during lessons and in conversation with camp residents. Notes were taken on a daily basis in the form of a diary. At the end of each week, I sketched a brief summary, condensing my key findings and outlining possible lines of inquiry and identifying prospective interviewees. This practice helped structure the project and allow the research question to develop naturally, in line with qualitative findings rather than preceding, and thus limiting, them. A key feature of ethnographic research is the flexibility and reflexivity of the research process which typically evolves contextually in response to the lived realities encountered in the field setting (LeCompte & Schensul 1999).Thus, instead of relying upon pre-conceptions and implicit assumptions to structure research from the outset, and subsequently forcing findings to adhere to these false parameters, it was necessary to sketch the contours of the topic then let the ‘lived realities’ dictate the path of inquiry. For example, some specific assumptions that did not correspond to the reality of Doliana include the preconception that Afghan women would be less well educated than their male compatriots or that Afghan children would be less well educated than Syrian children. Whilst these assumptions may be borne out by general trends, in the particular context of Doliana, both proved erroneous.

Interviews were conducted with a multitude of key actors, including representatives from INGOs responsible for co-ordinating non-formal education across Greece, Greek teachers delivering ‘reception lessons’, academics responsible for co-ordinating local refugee education projects, independent volunteers and refugee children. All interviews were recorded, and participants signed a short statement declaring that they understood the nature of the research project and were happy to take part. All interviews were conducted in English.

Ethical considerations were taken into account whilst conducting research, particularly in regards to interviews with minors. Only three were selected for interview; I spent several months working with these young people, developing a strong teacher-student bond, before asking them if they wished to take part. All three spoke English proficiently. Procedures and practice discussed by Berman et al (2016) were followed, including obtaining oral permission from parents, explaining the nature of the research project (in translation), repeatedly affirming that participation was entirely voluntary, ensuring participants were comfortable and in no way distressed by the topics being discussed, and considering the wider effects (social/psychological) of participation on those taking part. On a broader plane, research conducted in a humanitarian setting must be informed by a desire to improve the lives of those caught up in the ‘humanitarian emergency’ – in this case, the residents of the camp. Thus a degree of advocacy is inherent; though a single case can be a dubious basis for stimulating policy change, it can a) pressure key actors (states, EU, NGOs) to re-assess their conduct, roles and procedures and b) help identify underlying logics or assumptions that are not limited to a single case. As Parthasarathy explains, it is the duty of the ethnographer to ‘place these [observed] meanings in wider contexts such as the wider economy [and] government policies’ (2008: 17). It is therefore this wider context that is of particular importance; though each camp is unique, wider policies and procedures and the logics that underpin them can be identified on a national and sometimes even global level. As Agier points out;

‘It is a specific property of the camps that they exist not identically but according to the same underlying principles in many parts of the planet at the same time. Each camp is a born as a local or national solution, but is part of a global mechanism.’ (2011:16)

A detailed analysis of a single ‘cog’ may therefore have repercussions for the entire ‘global mechanism’ even though such an analysis harbours no claims of universality, and offers no global solution. Instead, in line with the logic that underpins this study, the desired approach is one that responds to the particularities of each case, while at the same time acknowledges that such cases can only be comprehended as nodes in a network.

When conducting ethnographic research, it is essential to possess and develop a degree of self-awareness. It is impossible to dissolve the perspective of the researcher, and futile to attempt to deny the power dynamics that structure all social interactions. The web of factors that inform my own identity (gender, ethnicity, age, education, social background, profession) interact with the same factors that inform the identities of camp residents, resulting in a set of outcomes specific to each social interaction. Thus, I cannot make any claims of objectivity or neutrality – even the most reticent and unobtrusive observer is more than just an impartial pair of eyes (Laue 1989). On several occasions, it was clear that my status as a male allowed access to certain conversations (between other males) that a female researcher would almost certainly have been excluded from – discussions regarding marital practices and dating habits in the Western world. By the same token, it would have been considered improper for me to form close relationships either with single women or female adolescents, and even if I had done so, I would not have been privy to similar conversations among women. My status as a ‘young’ man allowed for an easier and closer relationship with male adolescents and young adults – had I been twenty years older, I may well have been perceived as a ‘real adult’ and excluded from similar conversations. On several occasions, my status as a non-Muslim outsider led to the censorship of younger males by elder sisters or cousins – a male teenager complaining about the difference in expectation regarding marriage in Western and non-Western societies, and the perceived restrictions of his religion, was swiftly shut down – presumably as it was not considered acceptable to voice one’s discontent with such matters in the company of an ‘outsider’. The purpose here is to demonstrate an awareness of the ‘biases’ that stem from constitutive elements of my identity that shape and structure my research, allowing access to certain pathways and people while rendering others off-limits. Given the inherent impossibility of eliminating such biases, the focus must be on acknowledging their existence, reflecting on how and to what extent they might influence results and attempting to minimise their impact through ‘triangulation’(speaking to several key actors rather than relying on a single perspective). In this sense, Geertz’ comparison of ‘doing ethnography’ to reading a text that is ‘foreign, faded, full of ellipses [and] incoherencies’ (Geertz 1973:10) seems particularly relevant - the silences, omissions and absences must be analysed with the same vigour as that which is overtly present. Self-reflection and awareness of one’s own position within the constellation of social relations are closely tied to this reading of silences; both in effect, probe the motivations behind social interaction, rather than simply accepting them at face value.

In practical terms, my role as an English teacher may have impelled interviewees or camp residents to expound the benefits of learning English while expressing negative views about learning Greek; if I were Greek, such views may have been tempered or omitted altogether. As a teacher I was treated with a degree of respect by most camp residents– I was regularly addressed as ‘Teacher’ (a direct translation from Farsi/Arabic ‘Mua’llim’ commonly used to address teachers in both Syria and Afghanistan) and treated as ‘a guest of honour’. My status as a Westerner afforded me certain privileges that were not extended to all ‘outsiders’ - when playing a football match (organised weekly by the Syrians in the camp) I was again treated as a guest of honour, asked which position I wanted to play, and given a starting role. By contrast, two Afghan men who also wanted to play were told to play in goal and soon substituted. I have already mentioned how my status as a Westerner/non-Muslim also functioned as an exclusion mechanism, particularly when conversation turned to religion or included criticism of certain religious or cultural mores. It should also be noted that the role of language teacher soon became indistinguishable from that of cultural mediator, in the sense that I was the first port of call for information about Europe and European culture; camp residents would regularly ask me about life in my country, about food, football, language, marriage, school, work, average salaries, etc.

The language barrier proved an obstacle of sorts, but not one of an insurmountable nature. Basic Arabic/English allowed for communication, and family members (particularly children) were often able to translate more challenging concepts. It is however necessary to acknowledge that interactions took place on a fairly uneven linguistic plane, and that translations were mediated by family dynamics and English proficiency. Though more nuanced studies of kinship, gender roles and identity would certainly require greater proficiency in Arabic or Farsi, exploring educational experiences and the role of education is in many ways a more straightforward project, and was therefore not significantly affected by linguistic shortcomings.


Doliana is a small village in the Epirus region of Northern Greece, around 25km from the Albanian border and 35km from the nearest city (Ioannina). The village used to be a local capital of sorts, but is now partially abandoned – the population is currently around 300 people, and many houses stand empty.

The camp is located on the edge of the village, in a disused school on a plot of wasteland beneath a Greek state secondary school. The camp houses between 100 and 150 people (a small camp by Greek standards) and is ethnically mixed; around 80% Syrian-Kurdish, 10% Syrian and 10% Afghan. Greek, English, Turkish, Kurdish, Arabic and Farsi are spoken. The majority of camp residents are families; there are also several single men, but no unaccompanied minors (UAM). There are between 40 and 50 children of school age.

The camp residents arrived in Greece in March 2016, just before the cut-off date (marked by the EU-Turkey deal). They disembarked either on Chios and Lesbos, and spent between one and two weeks on the islands, before being relocated directly to the Doliana camp as part of the ‘refugee archipelago’ scheme. All are waiting for a decision from UNHCR regarding their future; some qualify for resettlement (to any of a number of EU member states) and some for family reunification (many have fathers or brothers in Germany). The Afghans are the exception – they are ineligible for resettlement to a third country (European Commission, 2016) and are therefore applying for asylum in Greece.

The camp itself is guarded by a small crew of Greek military personnel. Refugees are free to enter and leave as they please, but, somewhat ironically, everyone else must show ID to get in. Each family occupies a converted classroom. Smaller families, couples and single men sleep in converted offices, cloakrooms or cupboards. All families have access to basic cooking facilities, but very few of the ‘houses’ have running water. The camp has two communal toilet/shower blocks that are not segregated by gender.

Education Timeline

Between March and June 2016, the children had no access to education at all. In June 2016, a pilot project co-ordinated by the University of Ioannina (with the support of the Greek Ministry for Education) was undertaken, with the aim of improving understanding of the challenges of educating refugees and informing future policy. A team of academics and student volunteers visited the camp three days per week, with the dual aim of undertaking research and providing activities for school-age children (Interview with academic, March 2017). This project came to a close at the end of June, and children were again left without access to education. In August 2016, two independent volunteers who had been working in a nearby camp saw the conditions in Doliana (particularly the isolation and lack of NGO intervention) and decided to relocate. After consultation with camp residents, it became apparent that education (particularly English lessons) and activities for children were the main priority. They set up Doliana Solidarity Project and began teaching English on an ad hoc basis within the camp. By October, they had managed to rent two suitable ‘classrooms’ in the village and recruit several volunteer teachers (Interview with volunteer, March 2017).

In mid-November, in line with Greek government policy, afternoon lessons (known as ‘reception classes’) for refugee children began. Children were taught in Greek state schools, between 14:00 and 17:00, by teachers appointed on a temporary, part-time basis. Children from the camp between the ages of 6 and 14 were bussed to a school in Kalpaki (a twenty-minute bus journey from the camp) every afternoon from Monday to Friday. They were divided into two classes, and taught Greek language, Art, Mathematics and Physical Education (Interview with teachers, March 2017). Though promised from the outset, English lessons did not begin until February 2017 due to recruitment difficulties (ibid.).

Doliana Solidarity Project continued to operate, teaching English in the mornings to younger children and working with adolescents aged 15 and above (who were not invited to attend reception classes) and adults in the afternoons. Due to adverse weather conditions, the classrooms closed in mid-December. In mid-January, DSP resumed teaching but changed strategy, instead working with small groups and individuals in their ‘homes’ inside the camp. In early February, students aged 15 and above were invited to attend segregated classes in the secondary school neighbouring the camp, but interest was minimal and attendance poor.

As classes were held in the camp residents’ homes, it was necessary to cluster students from the same family or friendship group. Students were divided roughly according to English proficiency, but kinship ties and age were also considered. Thus, siblings and cousins were taught together if their English level permitted this, as were married couples and friends. I worked with adults, adolescents and children, including an adolescent male and his sister-in-law, a Kurdish couple, their sister and their brother-in-law, two Afghan sisters, two Afghan brothers, two older Kurdish women, an Afghan couple, and a Palestinian man with his Syrian friend. Lessons typically lasted around one hour. Camp residents who had received confirmation that they would be reunified with family living in Germany received German lessons from native German speakers working with DSP.

From early 2017, NGO presence in the camp gradually increased. Terre des Hommes (who together with Save the Children and the Norwegian Refugee Council were awarded $22.7m for programs across Greece that included educational elements [Howden 2017]) began co-ordinating activities (not lessons) with children on an ad hoc and sporadic basis in late autumn 2016. The Flying Seagull Project (a troupe of British clowns) started running weekly activities for younger children from January 2017. Thus, although activities for children were organised more frequently, structured and regular education remained the domain of the Greek state and Doliana Solidarity Project.



From 2012, integration with host communities became the main pillar of UNHCR refugee education policy. Up until this point, integration has largely been discussed in reference to education policy rather than as a concept in its own right. Though it might appear reasonably self-explanatory, ‘there is no single generally accepted definition, theory or model of immigrant and refugee integration’ (Castles et al, 2001: 12). Although it remains a common ‘stated policy goal and as a targeted outcome for projects working with refugees’ (Ager & Strang 2008), integration is ‘individualized, contested and contextual’ (Robinson 1998: 118). Despite its centrality to such projects, different stakeholders use the term in very different ways. Rather than attempting to draw together these disparate definitions, it is perhaps more fruitful to consider integration in its widest possible sense, as a process which has as its objective long-term co-existence and co-operation between peoples. Questions regarding the sharing of language, values, ways of life, rights, citizenship, equality and multiculturalism naturally arise, each with their own intricacies and sub-sections, but they nevertheless remain within this basic framework.

In Doliana, integration was rendered problematic by two factors; the spatial segregation of the camp and the various temporal constraints that delineate the camps existence. The spatial dimension, as we have seen, is common to all camps. In Doliana, camp residents experienced a triple marginalisation in spatial terms – living in a camp, on the far edge of a village, located deep in the Greek countryside, 45 minutes by bus from the nearest city. They were forced to inhabit the periphery, physically excluded from the centre on three distinct planes.

As we have seen, this spatial segregation is justified on two levels. On the first, the camp facilitates registration, distribution (of basic items) and communication, while on the second, it prevents a sudden influx of new arrivals in host communities, and the pressure on public goods that this entails. On closer inspection, both of these concerns reveal themselves as temporal (the need for immediate humanitarian intervention and the need to prevent a sudden influx of new arrivals in a host community). A third temporal constraint is the fact that many of the camp residents qualified for family reunification or resettlement (European Parliament, 2017), and therefore would not be staying in Greece. If integration is understood as a mid- to long-term project, then it is abundantly clear that the camps on the Greek mainland, including Doliana, embody the very temporality that renders this kind of integration impossible. They are neither short-term solutions that mitigate the complete absence of education/integration projects by their transience (as they were before the border closed), nor long-term solutions that can feasibly hope to develop sufficient education projects and foster integration with the host community over a period of years.

Many key actors (Greek state, INGOs) appear unwilling or unable to admit that integration projects in these circumstances are essentially futile. That is not to say that they should not be attempted (the alternative, complete exclusion, being far worse) but it should be acknowledged that the reality of the situation prohibits integration as previously defined. Instead, many key actors either redefine the term or rely upon an alternative definition; integration becomes completely divorced from the crucial temporal aspect, and is replaced by ad hoc, short-term doing occasional activities together. Such projects are eminently marketable; they demonstrate a degree of solidarity, they speak the language of diversity and multiculturalism, and they offer (photographic) evidence that the major actors are doing ‘something’ (thus helping to elicit more funding from donors). But, crucially, they do not challenge the segregation and marginalisation that define the lives of camp residents. In the absence of any temporal structure, such projects are merely isolated moments of interaction. They cannot ‘stand in’ for real community integration. As beneficial as they may be in other respects, an integrated community will not be the outcome.

A typical response of the key actors (UNHCR and its partner agencies) here is that they cannot shape the conditions that they find themselves working in; the transient nature of refugees entails a set of temporal constraints. Like the camps themselves, these projects are presented as an attempt to make the best of a difficult situation, as the only viable solution to a complex problem. Yet this stance exonerates or ignores the wider social, political and economic forces that have shaped the conditions that necessitate camps, and place such temporal constraints on their residents. These forces are not forces of nature; neither do they exist in a vacuum. They are affected, perhaps controlled, by the most powerful (state) actors, and can thus be challenged and changed. In practice, a more efficient, Europe-wide asylum process could significantly decrease the ‘waiting period’ for new arrivals, and turn camps into short-term processing centres. A competent and comprehensive humanitarian visa scheme based in refugee-producing countries or their neighbours could even remove the need for registration and application upon arrival (European Parliament 2016). Both of these interventions would remove the constraints that limit current education/integration projects. Evidently, outlining the full range of viable alternatives is beyond the scope of this paper. It is sufficient to point out that the camps, and the faux-integration projects that take place within and around them, are only the most viable solutions if one continues doggedly along the current path. Other paths exist, and on them, alternative solutions.


A second contradiction can be located in the language of instruction. As we have seen, in the past decade, it became increasingly clear that most refugees were in a protracted situation, and global refuge education policy shifted toward a model that focussed on acquisition of the language of the host country to allow ‘smooth integration of refugee learners into national systems’ (GES 2012: 28 ). That is not to say native language teaching was discontinued with immediate effect. Rather, it was explicitly acknowledged that attempts would have to be made to balance the two competing claims (of native and host country language acquisition) in the form of a ‘mixed curriculum that faces both ways’ (UNHCR cited in Walters & Leblanc). Proponents of native-tongue language acquisition point to the importance of continuity with the past in an otherwise precarious and uncertain situation, cultivating an individual and ethno-linguistic/national identity (Joseph 2004), the importance of psychosocial wellbeing (linked to the ability to express oneself) and the practical benefits of literacy in a native tongue for foreign language acquisition (Bialystock 2001). Learning the language of the host country is typically conceived as a key first step on the path to long-term integration, and a means to facilitate everyday transactions in the short-term – but this relies upon a mutual desire of both the host state and the refugee to teach/learn the stated language.

In the Greek context, the notion of a ‘mixed curriculum that faces both ways’ was rendered impossible by the plurality of countries of origin and the possibility (probability) of reunification or resettlement. Indeed, even following the updated GES guidelines that prioritise learning the language of the host country proved inherently problematic. A curriculum conceived along these lines would have to face up to four ways at once, and would be specific to each child; thus a Syrian child heading to Germany would study Arabic, Greek, German and English, while an Afghan child would focus on Farsi, Greek and English. Given the complications in organising such an intricate program (time restrictions, recruitment difficulties, logistical organisation), it soon became clear that compromises would have to be made.

The Greek government insisted that Greek language lessons form an integral part of the curriculum from the outset, ostensibly as a means to facilitate smooth integration of refugees into its national ‘order of things’ (Malkki 1995). However, a contradiction quickly becomes apparent; while learning the language may help negotiate day-to-day life, most children would not be staying in Greece, and therefore would not integrate into the Greek ‘national order of things’ i.e the Greek education system or Greek society. As a result, many expressed a limited desire to study Greek (Interview with teachers, March 2017; Interview with students, March 2017). While basic Greek (speaking and reading) undoubtedly helped with daily communication, learning Greek was viewed as a difficult and unnecessary chore that sometimes translated into a reason not to attend school (Interview with students, March 2017; Interview with teachers, March 2017). It should be noted that Afghans typically proved the exception, aware of the fact that they were more likely to stay in Greece on a mid- to long-term basis (Interview with student, March 2017). Significantly, these responses suggest a degree of agency rarely attributed to children or to refugees; instead of fulfilling their ‘assigned’ role of passive receptors of pre-selected knowledge strands, the children made active decisions about what they wanted to learn.

A second obstacle involved the uncertainty of refugees regarding their future. Until the latter stages of the resettlement process, camp residents were unaware of their destination country, foreclosing any attempt to teach the language of the country where they would eventually be granted asylum. In light of this uncertainty (and no doubt due in part to the cultural dominance of the US) many children expressed a desire to learn English, the lingua franca of Europe, perceived by many as a key to a better future (Interview with students, March 2017; interview with student March 2017).The Greek state appeared unwilling to recognise this, and failed to accept that in such circumstances, Greek should have perhaps taken a less central role, and should not have automatically been chosen as the language of instruction. In a move reminiscent of countless humanitarian interventions, the Greek government gave refugees what it wanted to give, rather than what the refugees themselves wanted to receive. Employing Greek teachers reduced unemployment, and retaining control over education provision (rather than ceding it to INGOs) can be interpreted as an assertion of sovereignty; unlike the governments of the Global South, the Greek state wanted to be seen as a key actor in the crisis unfolding on their territory, rather than a passive host reliant on foreign intervention. NGO representatives spoke of a power-struggle between the Greek government and UNHCR, with the former wishing to retain control but failing to acknowledge the economic restrictions that severely hampered its ability to perform such a task (Interview with NGO Representative, April 2017a).

The major INGOs (Save the Children and Unicef) responsible for co-ordinating education projects on a national scale emphasised the importance of native tongue teaching alongside Greek and English, and established schools in Athens that employed Arabic and Farsi speakers (in partnership with local NGOs Elix and Apostoli). However, such projects were not attempted in more remote areas such as Doliana. Admittedly, logistical and recruitment difficulties are more pronounced in these areas, but attempts to employ and train camp residents as interim teachers could, and should have been undertaken. Various NGOs operating in the area employed camp residents as translators or cultural mediators, and it is difficult to understand why the same could not have been attempted with teachers. Doliana Solidarity Project initially tried to support native-tongue lessons, informally ‘recruiting’ two camp residents who were highly literate in their native tongue and had some prior experience teaching, but the lessons only continued for about one month due to discipline issues, exacerbated by the fact that the teachers were working on a voluntary basis (Interview with volunteer, March 2017). That it fell to a small independently funded project to provide support beyond its remit and attempt to provide a service supposedly of great importance is indicative of the failure of the INGOs operating on the ground to translate their own rhetoric into coherent policy implemented on a national scale.

Still within the realm of language, a second contradiction that is inextricable from the integration paradox explored in the previous section becomes apparent. The principal motivation for teaching Greek – to facilitate communication with Greek people, theoretically beginning a process of integration – was completely undermined by restricting interaction with the Greek population, both by containing refugees in camps and by teaching refugee children separate from Greek children. If the Greek state were serious about teaching Greek and facilitating integration, one would expect significant efforts to expose refugees to the Greek language by encouraging, rather than limiting, interaction with Greek people. Instead, learning Greek became part of a charade in which most children were unwilling participants, pawns in a power struggle between the Greek government and UNHCR/partner INGOs.

Evidence gathered over the course of field research (observations and interviews with refugees and key actors) suggests that the Greek language should have occupied a less central role in the curriculum, and more effort should have been made to teach native languages (at least basic literacy) and English, as these would be of greater practical use to most (not all) refugees in the future. The use of Greek as a language of instruction should also have been discussed, in order to ascertain whether it was in the children’s best interests or those of the Greek state. As previously mentioned, several INGO-funded schools in Athens employed Arabic or Farsi speakers as teachers, translators or classroom assistants to help communicate with students and interact with parents. Such an approach would have required careful organisation (to avoid marginalisation of minorities) and external funding (the Greek state should not be required to use its severely limited state budget for such projects) but might have helped create a more inclusive school environment for refugee children.


A previous section explored how integration is redefined by the key actors in the global refugee regime and stripped of its crucial temporal component. ‘Education’ is utilised in a similar fashion; the elasticity of the term allows for all manner of interventions to take place. Education in a crisis situation is even more nebulous – providing safe spaces for children, offering opportunities to play and child-friendly activities are all bracketed under the banner of ‘education’. While it is certainly true that play is a key part of a child’s development, and offering a space that is ‘safe’ has huge psychological benefits for a traumatised or uprooted child, it is nevertheless slightly misleading to equate them with education and/or schooling. The point here is not to critique the grouping together of distinct domains on the part of INGOs, but to demonstrate how the broad, vague concept of education is periodically invoked when practitioners are confronted with the impossible reality of school provision. For example, when asked about the debilitating time constraints, the absence of a curriculum, the absence of a common language, the constant movement of people (before the border closed) and the general impossibility of conducting a coherent, engaging, useful lesson in this context, the INGO response was to point out that at least the children were in a safe space, if only for a few hours (Interview with NGO Representative, April 2017a). At least they were talking and listening, thereby developing social skills. If they were moving, at least they were developing their motor skills. If they are writing, at least they were improving their cognitive skills. When the complications of delivering non-formal education prove overwhelming, practitioners can fall back on an expanded definition to demonstrate they are still doing something, that ‘education’ is still being provided.

The above exchange is indicative of a paradox at the heart of education provision as humanitarian intervention. In some respects, it is absurd to try to provide formal/non-formal education in a refugee camp setting; the uncertainty and absence of a state, coupled with the conditions outlined above, create an environment that is virtually incompatible with regular, structured learning. UNHCR/INGOs, while fully aware of this contradiction, claim powerlessness over the wider situation, and instead endeavour to redefine ‘education’ to fit the narrow confines of the camp. Thus, education provision is focussed on cognitive development and safe spaces, on child protection and psychosocial support. Though of utmost importance, they cannot stand in for ‘education’ – either in its narrow form (schooling) or in its broader sense (the transmission of values, ideas, behavioural codes and a cultural-historical sense of self).

Having examined the contradictions of schooling with the camp, it is necessary to examine education conceived in its broader sense. If education is not merely limited to schooling but also incorporates ‘informal’ aspects (such as daily experience and exposure to the surrounding environment), what is the effect of the camp? What is the pedagogic message in the arbitrary containment of certain ‘non-native’ sectors of the population? One cannot help but wonder how children in camps can be expected to absorb values such as inclusivity, tolerance and respect for other cultures when their day-to-day lives are conducted in an environment shaped and structured by segregation and division.

Values and the camp.

The concepts of norms and values provide an overarching structure, a spine that runs through the following observations and analyses. It is futile to dwell on the finer points of the debate regarding these values – various scholars (Habermas 1992; Mouffe 2012; Ferry 2006; Castiglione 2009; Lacroix 2008) have contributed articles and book-length treaties on this very subject. Instead we will take a working definition of such values as an unfixed and constantly reworked framework of beliefs that structure social interaction in a given society. In Europe, and in the Western world as a whole, these values are commonly understood as respect for human rights, democracy and the rule of law, rooted in secularism, rationality and humanistic thinking. This skeletal set of values can be fleshed out with notions of tolerance, respect for others, freedom of expression, freedom of association etc. Cultural norms, though often interlinked with the aforementioned values, can be defined as a set of behaviours and attitudes considered typical of a given group that share a common identity. Values and norms have a symbiotic relationship. They inform and shape one other; what is deemed acceptable behaviour is rooted in a system of values, but such values are often established through habitual behaviour and produced through a complex web of power-relations.

The following section of analysis will examine what happens when different value systems and different cultural norms interact. This is of particular relevance in relation to education projects in refugee camps. In such settings, children often find themselves at the forefront of intercultural interactions; they are typically far less resistant to new ideas, concepts, values or behaviours than their adult counterparts, and quickly become living sites of cultural hybridity and change due to the different cultural influences they are exposed to from a young age. They thus experience the interaction of different value systems in a very real sense, and learn to negotiate this interaction on an almost daily basis. Epstein notes that the value systems of their home countries ‘are [often] deemed incompatible with international [read Western] values, and in some cases framed as the root causes of war and poverty, and so refugee children in particular are disciplined through education to be agents of change’ (Epstein 2012, italics added). This notion of ‘education as reorientation’ is of particular relevance given the dynamic of a refugee camp.

As has been amply discussed, the camp is an (enforced) coming together of people from different cultural backgrounds. Differences in expectation, perspective, language, culinary tastes and preferences, religion and gender norms are regularly negotiated, between camp residents, international staff, local residents and Greek workers. Though such interactions occur within these categories, the principle dynamic is between camp residents, recently arrived from Afghanistan or Syria, and Europeans living in the village or working in the camp. These interactions are often characterised as a ‘clash of values’ between the Muslim-Arab world (often confounded through ignorance or indifference) and Europe, a frontier of the West, a loosely aligned collection of liberal-democratic regimes predicated upon the aforementioned set of norms and values (such as commitment to uphold the rule of law, respect for human rights).

The idea of a ‘clash’ of values recalls Huntington’s seminal work ‘The Clash Of Civilizations?’ (1993) in which he contended that the temporary conflict between ideologies had been replaced by the ancient conflict between civilizations, and predicted that cultural and religious identities would become the primary source of conflict. Huntington’s work rests on the notion of irrevocable differences between fixed and sealed entities. The ‘clash’ he describes is violent, aggressive and absolute; it is not merely a moment of coming together but a profound and infinite intolerance and incompatibility. Such an approach ignores the reality of cultural interaction in practice however, in which cultural differences are negotiated, exchanges occur, and all cultures develop in relation to all others they come into contact with (Said 2001).

That being said, cultural differences will not be overcome by denying their very existence. Attempts to focus on common values do not mean that other, more contentious values will cease to be an issue and simply fade away into the background. This wishful thinking only serves to complicate the issue further, as instead of debate, discussion and compromise, cultural differences are merely hidden from view or stripped of their ubiquity and dissected into component parts (rather than cultural differences, contentious issues reside on a regional, family or individual level). Additionally, Westerners are particularly prone to diagnosing their own value systems as universal, ignoring the specific set of social-historical conditions that gave birth to them. Though they may be well-intentioned, attempts to spread or universalise such values recall colonial notions of bringing ‘civilization’ to savage peoples.

The camp is a laboratory for cultural interactions; for many new arrivals, their first prolonged face-to-face contact with Europeans occurs within the camp environment. Typically, all actors inevitably arrive at a series of intersections in which these cultural differences must be negotiated, and a compromise found. One such intersection is that of gender segregated teaching. After consultation, it emerged that most (adult) camp residents wanted boys and girls to be taught separately (Interview with volunteer, March 2017). The various actors were forced to make a choice between teaching in gender-segregated classrooms (in deference to the various cultures of origin) and teaching together (arguing that in Europe, this was a norm rooted in the value of gender equality, and being in Europe entailed respecting such cultural norms). DSP, various other INGOs, the Greek state (and several other education-based projects in the same predicament elsewhere) opted for the latter; in the vast majority of cases, the refugees soon relented, and classes proceeded with minimal interruption. The desire to see their children receive some form of education quickly triumphed over established cultural norms in their respective countries of origin. A similar situation arose regarding different ethnic groups. Initially, most refugees requested separate lessons for Syrian and Afghan students. Once again, the same crew of key actors decided to ignore this request, partly on logistical grounds and partly because it was argued that multiculturalism, the presence and acceptance of people from a range of different backgrounds, was a key European value, and must be respected. As one teacher observed, ‘in Germany or Sweden, they won’t be taught in separate groups but together, alongside German or Swedish children’ (Interview with teachers, March 2017). Though well-intentioned, this statement ignores the fact that in Greece, although Syrian and Afghan children were taught together, they were not taught alongside Greek children, rendering the whole notion of multiculturalism somewhat hollow. Teaching two different marginalised minority ethnic groups together but separately from the mainstream only reifies the sense of exclusion. Unsurprisingly, at Kalpaki school, fighting between Afghan and Syrian students was a daily occurrence (Interview with teachers, March 2017), and by late February, two Afghan children stopped attending school altogether due to persistent low-level violence (Interview with student, March 2017).

To their credit, most participants involved in teaching advocated teaching refugee children together with Greek children. One teacher, who had experience working with Roma children, advocated teaching subjects that do not require advanced knowledge of Greek, such as music, sport and art together. The same teacher also observed that on the few occasions when children were taught together, the behaviour of the refugee children improved significantly (Interview with teachers, March 2017). The main obstacle to this inclusive approach seemed to emanate from Greek parents; several teachers reported speaking to parents, some of whom were openly racist, and others who appeared to sympathise with the refugees’ plight but were afraid of the refugee children, and believed them to be dirty, poorly behaved and disease-ridden. While this explicit racism must be dismissed, it is nonetheless obvious that the sudden arrival of large numbers of non-Greek speaking children in a single class would have a significant impact on the learning experience of Greek children. This could have been negotiated either by introducing small numbers of refugees to each class (as was the case in Ambelokipi in central Athens [Howden 2017]) or employing translators or cultural mediators as classroom assistants (as has been previously mentioned) to enhance communication and reduce tension.

These above examples demonstrate differences in norms that are context-dependent, and thus susceptible to change. Harder to resolve are differences in values, deeply ingrained attitudes, mentalities or approaches that are not so susceptible to external (f)actors. One example is the attitude toward using violence as a means of disciplining children. Parents physically punishing children is common almost to the point of being ubiquitous in the Greek camps – this observation was confirmed by various interviewees, including with teachers, social workers and representatives from the INGOs co-ordinating refugee education across the country. Violence in the home environment inflicted principally but not exclusively by the father reflects a broader set of values that are deeply entrenched in both Syrian and Afghan societies. Obedience to the patriarchal head of the family is absolute. Any perceived challenge to his authority or lack of respect from his children is liable to be punished by force (Parallels can be drawn between family dynamics and the wider political culture of the state). Given this wider context, asking parents to stop hitting their children (under the pretext that it contravenes European cultural norms, or even certain Human Rights) is utterly futile. Indeed, in both countries, the use of violence as a tool to discipline is not limited to a domestic setting. According to various sources, corporal punishment in school is widely practiced in both Syria and Afghanistan. A representative from an INGO recounted how parents would ask her ‘Why the teachers weren’t hitting [her] children?’ (2017a). In effect, it would appear that children are taught from a young age that violence delineates the boundary between acceptable and unacceptable behaviour. At school in Greece, where violence is never used as punishment, these children found that the boundary had shifted; indeed, that the boundary enforced by violence no longer existed. Consequently, (as well as various other contributing factors) behaviour during the first few months was often poor as children negotiated this new terrain (Interview with teachers, March 2017).

The response to violence toward children in the camps traces a familiar path. UNHCR and their partner agencies express a degree of outrage at the use of violence against children. Certain INGOs attempt to negate the notion of cultural difference, and locate the problem within individual families, opening more case reports and the like (Interview with NGO Representative, April 2017a). As previously mentioned, obscuring, rather than acknowledging cultural differences is not a step toward their resolution. The fact that such violence is virtually endemic, and deeply rooted in the social fabric of various countries of origin, is conveniently overlooked. The social conditions in the camp (lack of privacy, extreme boredom, restriction of interaction with those outside) that only exacerbate the use of violence are ignored. While it is acknowledged that simply telling parents to stop hitting their children will not work, only minimal attempts are made to address how attitudes and cultural norms can be influenced – namely through exposure to, and integration with, European society over a significant period of time. Once again, the temporal constraints of the camp foreclose any attempts to facilitate integration and alleviate these tensions.

Having analysed three circumstances in which different value systems interact, it is necessary to take a closer look at the role of behavioural norms. Both the ‘hidden curriculum’ and informal education in general teach a set of behavioural norms designed to provide children with the skills to negotiate the world around them. In a Western (read European) context, such norms include arriving on time, listening to one another, discussion and debate rather than aggression and violence and respect for one’s environment. The refugee camp provides an example of a setting in which such norms and values do not correspond, or are actively in conflict with, the external environment. In the camp, violence is reasonably commonplace, the strongest/most cunning regularly gain greater access to resources, there is a complete absence of routine or structure, no possibility of appeal to a higher authority to settle disputes and ambivalence toward one’s surroundings. In such circumstances, there is a clear disconnect between the norms and values which are supposed to structure one’s life-world, and those that actually do. Evidently, teaching cannot and should not simply reflect this reality and teach the merits of enforcing one’s will by force or treating one’s surroundings with disdain. Instead, teaching follows the trajectory of the camp itself; rather than addressing the dismal reality of the present, education focusses on a deferred future, located outside the camp, to which all hope is pinned. These norms are still transmitted (either implicitly or explicitly) but children quickly develop a keen awareness of two distinct behavioural codes; one that applies to life inside the camp, and one that applies or will apply to life outside it (though the latter can be temporarily brought into the camp by NGO workers). This distinction was highlighted by the story of a camp social worker, describing her experience working with children and stray puppies that lived on the wasteland outside the camp.

‘When I am [in the camp], I see the children hugging and feeding the dogs, playing with the “cute puppies”. One day, I left, and then I came back because I [had] forgot[ten] something. The children didn’t see me. All the children, the same children, were hitting the same dogs with sticks.’ (Interview with Social Worker, March 2017).

This was not an isolated incident. Between January and April, three dogs were killed by children in the camp. Yet while NGO workers were in attendance, the children behaved in manner consistent with the framework of rules that apply outside the camp, petting and playing with the dogs. It was only when NGO workers departed and the children were left to their own devices that camp rules kicked in – in the absence of any kind of authority, violence and cruelty toward animals suddenly became acceptable.

A final contradiction that often remains unexamined relates back to the realisation that values are contingent upon wider society, and are neither universal nor ahistorical, regardless of their benign or indeed beneficial effects. Indeed, the very concept of ‘universal values’ negates the specificity of the individual, and presupposes a singular base experience of humanity, thereby ignoring the complex web of power relations that structure human interaction, producing and maintaining strictly differentiated experiences and perspectives. In the context of the camp, ‘much of the former life-worlds of refugees are deemed incompatible with “international values”’ – thus ‘educational policy and practice is oriented around the recalibration of their social and cultural norms rather than congruent with them’ (Epstein 2012: 112). Part of this ‘recalibration’ involves the inculcation of the aforementioned international (universal) values, severed from both their historical roots and the wider society in which they hold meaning. Notions such as the importance of the rule of law, of Human Rights, of democracy, of tolerance and respect for other cultures are inscribed upon individuals who find themselves outside the parameters of this cosy ‘universality’, and whose very existence serves as a reminder that such notions are in fact limited or restricted to certain societies, or citizens of certain states. One cannot help but identify a blatant contradiction in a society that teaches, transmits or imparts values such as tolerance, diversity and respect for other cultures while at the same time endeavours to keep people claiming asylum in camps. ‘Liberal Europe’ is a reassuring and comforting idea to those occupying a privileged position within it, but an absolute fiction to those who find themselves on its margins, experiencing, first hand, the camps, segregation, bureaucratic delays, police harassment, violence and abuse emblematic of the current European approach to migration and asylum.


This study draws together three distinct strands of academic study; refugees, camps and education. In order to examine the role of education within a refugee camp, it is first necessary to understand the wider context of migration and asylum. Beginning with the birth of the refugee as a ‘social category’ in Europe in the immediate aftermath of the Second World War, one can trace the development of a discourse, a body of knowledge that shapes contemporary understanding of the ‘refugee issue’. The bifurcation of this discourse prefigured by the migration of this issue to the Global South marks a key point in this development, and provides an analytical frame for reading the current European refugee ‘crisis’. The arrival of over 1.5million people from the Global South on the shores of Europe broke the mould, transgressing the established frontier between the universality of asylum and the reality of what that universality might actually entail.

The camps that were established within the borders of the European Union were the consequence of this transgression. Characterised by segregation and uncertainty, these camps are a common feature of the refugee regime of the Global South. Their appearance on mainland Europe marks a new chapter in global migration governance. Virtually all previous research conducted on refugee camps (before 2015) took place in the Global South; policy initiatives and best practice of international institutions were formulated and implemented in this context. The situation in Greece problematized some of the assumptions that underpinned these approaches.

Education provision posed several problems. Some of these contradictions are endemic to all camps; the spatial segregation and uncertainty which undermine education and integration projects are not unique to Greece. But the specific set of temporal constraints, the heterogeneity of the new arrivals, the role of the Greek state and the dynamic between Western and non-Western value systems were specific to this particular context.

Great care has been taken to examine education in both the narrow, conventional sense of schooling and the wider understanding of transmitting a package of values, norms and ways of behaving. Education cannot be reduced to a mere curriculum, nor extricated from the social structures in which it takes place. Providing schooling in such an environment entails negotiating these practical concerns such as language of instruction or degree of integration in state schools. But it is also necessary to identify and interrogate the wider contradictions inherent in education and integration projects that take place in spaces fundamentally structured by exclusion, and analyse the disconnect between principles and practice. The purpose is to engage with the contradictions present on each plane, as opposed to focussing either on the practical concerns without taking into account the bigger picture, or dismissing all practical concerns as irrelevant in light of the profound societal contradictions. The specific interventions and narrow constraints can only be understood by grappling with the wider set of power-relations that produce them.

In Doliana, the possibility of long-term integration with the host community was foreclosed by the temporal constraints imposed upon camp residents, yet the Greek state, UNHCR and its partner agencies continued to try to foster it. Schooling was to play a key role in this endeavour, yet refugee children were taught separately from their Greek counterparts. Greek was the language of instruction, but interaction with Greeks restricted, both inside and outside the classroom. European norms and values such as gender equality and respect for other cultures were insisted upon; quite how this respect for others permitted their containment in camps conveniently overlooked.

The contradictions inherent in providing education and fostering integration in a refugee camp are manifold and difficult to resolve. Attempts to do so inevitably run up against the fundamental, irreconcilable contradiction of the camp as a space of exclusion. While working to ameliorate the schooling experience of refugee children in refugee camps by analysing and critiquing current practice and policy, it is necessary to retain as a primary objective the elimination of such camps, and in particular, the curtailment of their proliferation within the borders of Europe.


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