Residents of the village of Kalishte in Bulgaria’s Kovatchevitsa area protested on September 15, the first day of school, against accepting 12 refugee children at the school.
The parents of the 18 pupils at the school threatened to move their children if the refugee children arrived at the school, local media said.
Of the 12 foreign children, seven are first-graders and the rest in other grades.
Bulgarian institutions are insisting that the refugee children should attend school. Earlier in September, there were reports that bureaucratic obstacles were obstructing the admission of refugee children to schools in Bulgaria.
Speaking on September 15 to television station bTV, Kovatchevitsa mayor Vassil Stanimirov said that he had been alerted at the last minute that the school in Kalishte should accept refugees.
He alleged that he was threatened that if the refugee children were not admitted to the school, buses to the school would be stopped and there would be financial penalties.
According to Stanimirov, “the problem is that these are not refugees. They are foreigners who sought protected status who have been refused it – Somalis and Afghans”.
The villagers were reportedly unhappy that the children “did not know Bulgarian”. The school’s headmistress, Violeta Mihailova, said that she would comply with the order, but the teachers were not prepared to teach children who had not passed a course in the Bulgarian language.
However, Lazar Dodev of the Ministry of Education said that it was not true that the children did not speak Bulgarian. They had completed a six-month course in the language, he said.
Anna Andreeva of Bulgaria’s State Agency for Refugees said that the presence of the children in the school would help prevent it being closed down.
“I can’t believe what I’m hearing,” Andreeva said. She said that it worried her that in a small village where there were so few pupils, people did not want refugee children admitted to the school.
Over more than a decade, a number of schools in Bulgarian villages and rural towns with rapidly diminishing populations have been shut because they were no longer viable.
Local media said that a special meeting of the Kovatchevitsa municipal council was being called to discuss the situation.
(Screenshot of Kovatchevitsa mayor Stanimirov: bTV)