Greece shuts down five Turkish schools in western Thrace

Greece's Education Ministry has shut down five more schools attended by students from the country's Turkish minority, citing low attendance, pro-government Daily Sabah newspaper reported on Monday.

The decision, announced last month, includes schools in Rodop (Rhodope) and İskeçe (Xanthi), two regions in western Thrace where the Turkish minority is concentrated, the newspaper said.

With the latest closure, the number of minority schools closed in country since 2011 has reached 65.

Western Thrace’s Muslim-Turkish minority of around 150,000 people has long been an issue of contention between Ankara and Athens with Turkey calling out Greece for what it calls failure to grant full rights to the minority, including a state denial of ethnic identity and restrictions on freedom of religion.

Closing down schools or merging them under the pretext of a lack of students is wrong and does not contribute to the education of minorities, Salih Ahmet, head of the Teachers' Association for the minority group, told Daily Sabah.

"These schools have a different status than other schools, and a decision to close them should be based on existing laws," Ahmet said.

Greece began shutting down schools attended by Turkish minority students in 2011 as part of an education drive to cut costs. A total of 14 said schools were shut down that year and their overall number dropping to 877 from 1933.