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.