The government has been criticised by children’s rights commissioner Despo Michaelidou over recent comments about the high percentage of migrants in the education system.
Government spokesman Marios Pelekanos made the comments after a crisis meeting on migration earlier this week.
Pelekanos said authorities were concerned over demographic changes, neighbourhoods turning into “ghettos”, citing as proof that 30% of pre-school children and 16% of children in primary education have a “migrant biography”.
The commissioner responded: “The spokesperson’s speech, with the use of statistics without offering any explanation, has intentionally or unintentionally aggravated society’s anxiety, insecurity, xenophobia and intolerance”.
Michaelidou acknowledged the community’s concern; however, she pointed out that “we must collectively face the problem with due attention as the issue is primarily a humanitarian one, taking care to ensure human rights”.
As the commissioner noted, Pelekanos, in his statements, refrained from clarifying whether the numbers quoted include all children who belong to the group of children with migrant biographies or just part of it.
“The term children with a migrant biography includes a wide and diverse group: children of which one parent is a Cypriot, children of investors living in Cyprus, whose parents have a residence and work permit, and of course children of asylum seekers, refugee and unaccompanied children,” said Michaelidou.
“Children with a migrant biography are first and foremost children. They are a vulnerable group exposed to serious dangers and daily violations of their rights.
“It is a non-negotiable principle and obligation of the state, society and the individual, to avoid targeting and confronting them as a potential threat that inevitably leads only to their social exclusion and stigmatisation”.
She said the state should ensure that children have access to all their rights indiscriminately.
“Through a scientifically designed pedagogical program, emphasis should be placed on their access to education, a differentiated education that will meet the needs of each child individually to be able to acquire the knowledge and skills needed for comprehensive development and their smooth integration into society”.
Michaelidou expects everyone to fully respect all the obligations arising from the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child.
Pelekanos also came under fire from the leading opposition party AKEL. Its leader Stefanos Stefanou compared it to hate speech while calling on President Nicos Anastasiades and ruling DISY leader Averof Neophytou to take action.
AKEL also criticised the government for mishandling the migrant issue, adding, “Instead of the government assuming its responsibilities, it chooses to hide behind xenophobic rhetoric”.