International Justice

CJ354 Endicott College

Human Rights Watch Reports on Unaccompanied Minors Detained in Greece

Between June 27th and July 6th 2016, Human Rights Watch commissioned a report regarding unaccompanied minors in Northern Greece. In the first 7 months of 2016, over 3,300 unaccompanied minors, primarily from Syria, Afghanistan, and Iraq, were registered by Greek Authorities.

Greece is largely unprepared for the substantial flow of migrants that have crossed its borders over the past year, and lacks a comprehensive system for child asylum seekers. However, this does not excuse the Greece’s abuse and neglect of unaccompanied minors


Moria Detention Center, Greece

within the current system. In the system currently at use, all unaccompanied minors experience prolonged arbitrary detention. Detention centers are police operated,  and children sleep in cells. Extensive reports of  abuse include unsanitary conditions, abusive treatment, and a lack of critical care and services; including medical treatment, phycological counseling, legal aid, interviews and explanations in a language that is understood by the child, education and recreation, and awareness and familiarization with state assigned legal guardian. Despite  violating international and national law regarding separation of minors and adults, children have been reported being forcibly held in the same cells as adults, heightening the risk to minors of sexual violence and general abuse.

Under International and Greek Law, detention of unaccompanied minors is an option only in exceptional cases. Greek authorities have blamed their violations of the law, claiming arbitrary detention is for temporary protection within the child’s best interest. Prolonged detention has become practice, on average, children are being held for one to two months within detention centers, striped of their basic rights, and prone to many forms of abuse.

Human Rights Watch has called on Greece to change their protocol, stating that “unaccompanied minors should not be detained based solely on immigrant status.” Detention should only occur in exceptional circumstances, and for a far shorter maximum period of time then is and has been in practice. HRW demands that Greece invest immediately in sufficient and sustainable alternatives to detaining unaccompanied minors. HRW suggest that Greece ends the practice of automatic detention and assess each case individually based on need. HRW also states that Greece needs to urgently improve conditions within detention centers to include interpretation services, information about purpose of detention for minors, counseling, legal aid, and education and recreation materials. HRW calls for an alternative to detention, and that all children are familiarized with their given legal guardian. HRW calls on the EU and European Commission to make the asylum process for unaccompanied minors more urgent, and to speed up processes regarding family reunification. HRW calls on the EU to allocate sufficient funding to NGO’s working specifically with displaced children, urgently support reunification, and amend a more intensive emergency relocation plan for unaccompanied minors.



Two of my good friends, both unaccompanied minors posing as adults, who would assist our NGO with construction every day.

This past summer I spent 8 weeks in Thessaloniki, Greece working in Syrian refugee camps. During that time, I met many unaccompanied minors. In many cases, I heard stories of families that could not afford to leave their country together, and had a “Sophie’s Choice” type of situation; they would have to choose one person to go. Often times, they would send their oldest son, or the child who could speak english.

While some were young children who had traveled with friends or relatives, many  were boys between the ages of 15 and 18 who were posing as adults. They would do so to avoid detention centers, the exploitation of unaccompanied minors, and in hopes of maintaining their dignity and little freedom they had left. They would often times group up with other unaccompanied minors doing the same thing, to share a tent, food, and for general companionship and protection. Instability, the effects of trauma, and depression were particularly high within these groups. These boys are especially vulnerable to human trafficking, police brutality, and to physiological/emotional issues.


3 responses to “Human Rights Watch Reports on Unaccompanied Minors Detained in Greece

  1. ellesnyder September 21, 2016 at 6:57 pm

    In response to Human Rights Watch Reports on Unaccompanied Minors Detained in Greece:

    I cannot imagine the scope of the hugely important experience you had working in these refuge camps and how that may have helped shape your understanding of the issue. The recommendations made by Human Rights Watch must mirror your own suggestions for improving conditions. I have two primary thoughts regarding these camps and the Syrian refugee situation overall. The suggested improvements for the camps all appear to hinge on systematic changes and require an increase in funds. To what extent are these funds available and being properly allocated to refugee camps? I would assume that a lack of results means that either the funds do not exist, there is a bureaucratic disconnect, or there are anterior motives for breaking international and national law through mistreatment of these children. What are your thoughts? Also – to what extent does the U.S. contribute to these camps and how does Greece’s economic problems affect their ability to handle such an influx of population?
    My other consideration is concerned with what the refugee influx and subsequent abuse of children will mean down the line. What does the increase in ethnic Syrian men mean for the Greece population in the future, especially if they are coming in to the community in the hostile and unwelcome manner that is occurring now. Who will be responsible for making amends and taking responsibility for the crimes against these children, the Greek government? Or will the crimes against the Syrian refugee children merely be wrapped up in whatever prosecution, reparations, or truth commissions that come once preverbal dust has settled in Syria?

  2. salmaalsulaiman September 22, 2016 at 10:59 am

    “There can be no keener revelation of a society’s soul than the way in which it treats its children.” – Nelson Mandela

    I never really thought about the fact that there are unaccompanied minors when it comes to immigration and refugees. I always just imagined how hard it is for immigrants to cross the borders away from the tragedies they are facing. Greece is already facing it’s own problems with the economic devastation that they are in, so I did not expect the refugee reception to be anything but “dysfunctional” (Doctors Without Borders).
    “When in Greece, minors don’t receive differentiated treatment as there’s no specialized state infrastructure for receiving and dealing with these children and no staff professionally qualified to examine their claims” (Andriani Filli).
    Thousand of these migrants and refugees are risking their lives to reach Aegean Sea, in hopes of finding peace. What you brought to attention really shocked me. I do not understand how minors are being put in detention centers that are not only in inhumane condition but are also abusive. This is clearly a violation and the UN should be pressuring Greece to fix this situation by doing what the HRW recommends or they should send personnel who are able to handle it more adequately. Greece is obviously excusing their exercise of this violation what they state “within the child’s best interest” to be in the detention center. The UN and EU must find a way to help these children reunite with their families quickly. With more refugees coming in, I honestly believe that Greece will fail in accommodating them.
    It must have been a life changing experience for you to work with these refugees; I always wanted to work with an organization that works to help refugees. I hope to have an experience like yours in the future.

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