03.01.2019
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Photo: Salinia Stroux

At the end of 2018, an estimated 570 unaccompanied refugee and migrant children who reached Greece seeking safety, find themselves homeless and exposed to the cold and uncertainty in Athens or other big cities in the mainland.

Many others live in dire and unsafe con­di­ti­ons in one of the islands’ refu­gee camps; while others are being detai­ned – often among adults – in poli­ce cells or detenti­on cen­ters until a place is found in a shel­ter.

The­re have been long-stan­ding chal­len­ges in the pro­tec­tion of the­se vul­nera­ble child­ren in Greece – befo­re, during and after the refu­gee cri­sis. The insuf­fi­ci­ent num­ber of pla­ces in shel­ters, the absence of a guar­di­anship sys­tem and pro­ble­ma­tic age assess­ment pro­ce­du­res are some of the main pro­tec­tion gaps.

At the end of Novem­ber 2018, the­re were 3,786 unac­com­pa­nied or sepa­ra­ted child­ren regis­te­red as such in Greece. Out of tho­se, 2,038 were out of long-term or tem­pora­ry accom­mo­da­ti­on inclu­ding 657 unac­com­pa­nied child­ren stay­ing in Recep­ti­on and Iden­ti­fi­ca­ti­on Cen­tres (RICs) on the Aege­an islands or Evros and 72 in pro­tec­tive cus­to­dy. In addi­ti­on, 570 child­ren were repor­ted homeless and 292 as living in infor­mal housing arran­ge­ments. Not to men­ti­on that the real num­ber of unac­com­pa­nied child­ren still remains unclear as many of them may not have been iden­ti­fied by the aut­ho­ri­ties as such or did not have access to them.

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The expo­sure of so many child­ren to homel­ess­ness, pro­tec­tive cus­to­dy or the squalid con­di­ti­ons in hot­spots and often to exploi­ta­ti­on and abu­se is lin­ked to a gre­at extent to the insuf­fi­ci­ent num­ber of pla­ces in spe­cial shel­ters. The cur­rent num­ber of such pla­ces is 1,213. Despi­te an increa­se sin­ce last year, the num­ber is serious­ly ina­de­qua­te for the exis­ting needs and the­se shel­ters often face the risk of clo­sure as a result of lack of fun­ding. Mean­while, Law 4554/2018 envi­sa­ges a sys­tem of guar­di­anship that may be able to pro­vi­de more effec­tive sup­port to unac­com­pa­nied or sepa­ra­ted child­ren. Howe­ver, this legis­la­ti­on has not yet been imple­men­ted.

Refu­gee Sup­port Aege­an (RSA) / PRO ASYL have been fol­lo­wing and sup­por­ting through soci­al and legal work unac­com­pa­nied or sepa­ra­ted child­ren on the islands and main­land for many years. Ele­ni Velivas­sa­ki, RSA lawy­er who rep­res­ents unac­com­pa­nied child­ren befo­re natio­nal aut­ho­ri­ties and inter­na­tio­nal human rights bodies said: “The natio­nal aut­ho­ri­ties have been fai­ling for years to increa­se suf­fi­ci­ent­ly accom­mo­da­ti­on pla­ces and deve­lop an effec­tive pro­tec­tion sys­tem. The result is see­ing so many unac­com­pa­nied child­ren living in the streets or being pla­ced in ‚pro­tec­tive cus­to­dy‘, a form of detenti­on that can­not be jus­ti­fied under inter­na­tio­nal law and vio­la­tes the right to liber­ty and secu­ri­ty of the child­ren”.

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Pho­to: pri­va­te

The sto­ries in this arti­cle aim to shed light to the plight of hund­reds of unac­com­pa­nied boys who found them­sel­ves homeless or in infor­mal housing arran­ge­ments as a result of per­sis­tent serious gaps in the pro­tec­tion sys­tem for this vul­nera­ble group. In the absence of long-term accom­mo­da­ti­on, one child was offe­red the opti­on of pro­tec­tive cus­to­dy to escape homel­ess­ness.

Aryo will con­ti­nue being homeless and expo­sed to all kinds of risks to his phy­si­cal and men­tal health this win­ter.

Aryo* is a 15-year-old unac­com­pa­nied boy wis­hing desper­ate­ly to be reu­ni­ted with his mother who is in Ger­ma­ny. They have expe­ri­en­ced a force­ful and trau­ma­tic sepa­ra­ti­on sin­ce Aryo was qui­te young. Befo­re see­king safe­ty in Greece, the boy grew up in Afgha­ni­stan and then Iran and has been sub­jec­ted to many forms of mal­tre­at­ment. He has never been able to attend school. Sin­ce his arri­val in Greece, this young and vul­nera­ble boy has been homeless in Athens. RSA has assisted him with fin­ding some warm clot­hing and food and infor­med the Greek aut­ho­ri­ties about his request for asyl­um and need for shel­ter. Unfor­tu­n­a­te­ly, the­re has been no news so far regar­ding the app­li­ca­ti­on for shel­ter. This means that Aryo will con­ti­nue being homeless and expo­sed to all kinds of risks to his phy­si­cal and men­tal health this win­ter.

»I remem­ber the images of peop­le blee­ding and peop­le dying. Nobo­dy could help them.«

Moham­med*

Moham­med* is a 17-year-old unac­com­pa­nied boy from Afrin in Syria. He arri­ved in Greece in the spring of this year through Evros river. Despi­te under­go­ing recep­ti­on and iden­ti­fi­ca­ti­on pro­ce­du­res by the com­pe­tent government agen­cy, he was not iden­ti­fied as a minor. As a result, he found him­s­elf homeless in Athens and then mana­ged to find infor­mal accom­mo­da­ti­on with the help of his cou­sin.  He was assisted by vol­un­te­ers and was able to get an appoint­ment for the regis­tra­ti­on of his asyl­um claim five mon­ths after his arri­val in Greece. The Greek Asyl­um Ser­vice pro­vi­ded him with a refer­ral note along with a list of 3 hos­pi­tals in order to pre­sent him­s­elf and ask for an age assess­ment, yet, wit­hout any fur­ther gui­d­ance or help. Moham­med* was refer­red by vol­un­te­ers to RSA and then our staff assisted him during the age assess­ment pro­ce­du­re. Six mon­ths after Mohammed’s arri­val in Greece, the Asyl­um Office final­ly deci­ded that he is inde­ed a minor.

Moham­med suf­fers from par­ti­al disa­bi­li­ty but so far has not been pro­vi­ded with a soci­al secu­ri­ty num­ber that allows him to have access to sta­te medi­cal care. An app­li­ca­ti­on for accom­mo­da­ti­on has been sub­mit­ted three mon­ths ago to the com­pe­tent government agen­cy (the Natio­nal Cent­re for Soci­al Soli­da­ri­ty) but Moham­med has yet to recei­ve a reply.  He is still in tem­pora­ry infor­mal accom­mo­da­ti­on, while he can­not stop thin­king about his fami­ly and their safe­ty.

He told us: “…I suf­fer from night­ma­res. …  I remem­ber the images of peop­le blee­ding and peop­le dying. Nobo­dy could help them. I still see the­se images in my dreams… I feel sca­red about my future and I am wor­ried about my fami­ly.“ 

The Greek aut­ho­ri­ties said that in the absence of pla­ces in a shel­ter, the main opti­on would be for Azzat* to be pla­ced in pro­tec­tive cus­to­dy in a detenti­on cen­ter.

Azzat* is a 17-year-old unac­com­pa­nied boy from Afgha­ni­stan who has found him­s­elf homeless in Athens.  In a peri­od of two years sin­ce his arri­val in Greece, Azzat has expe­ri­en­ced life in an island refu­gee camp whe­re con­di­ti­ons are dire and the­re are many safe­ty risks such as vio­lent fights and sexu­al abu­se. He has also expe­ri­en­ced detenti­on and now homel­ess­ness in the streets of Athens.

The boy’s fami­ly fled Afgha­ni­stan and moved to Iran short­ly after he was born. He fled Iran to escape mili­ta­ry con­scrip­ti­on and reached one of the Greek islands some mon­ths after the EU-Tur­key deal came into effect.

One of Azzat’s sib­lings is in Ger­ma­ny but the boy’s fami­ly reuni­fi­ca­ti­on request was rejec­ted by the Ger­man aut­ho­ri­ties. They cited late sub­mis­si­on of the request and absence of huma­ni­ta­ri­an grounds. Azzat’s app­li­ca­ti­on for a review of the reuni­fi­ca­ti­on request was also rejec­ted.

In despe­ra­ti­on, Azzat left from the shel­ter he was pla­ced and tried to reach Ger­ma­ny by attemp­t­ing to tra­vel irre­gu­lar­ly out of Greece. He was arrested by the Greek poli­ce and was held in detenti­on in inhu­man con­di­ti­ons in Nort­hern Greece for a who­le month. Sin­ce his release in the sum­mer of 2018, he has been homeless.

When RSA met the young boy about three mon­ths ago, he arri­ved in the mee­ting with sum­mer flip flops despi­te the decrea­sing tem­pe­ra­tures. He was suf­fe­ring from inten­se pain in his sto­mach and RSA staff accom­pa­nied him to the hos­pi­tal whe­re the­re were no inter­pre­ters. Due to the urgen­cy of the case, RSA infor­med the Natio­nal Cent­re for Soci­al Soli­da­ri­ty about his situa­ti­on in order for him to be pla­ced in a shel­ter.  Howe­ver, a dis­con­cer­ting respon­se was recei­ved by the Greek aut­ho­ri­ties. They said that in the absence of pla­ces in a shel­ter, the main opti­on would be for Azzat to be pla­ced in pro­tec­tive cus­to­dy in a detenti­on cen­ter until a place in a shel­ter was found.

Mari­an­na Tze­fe­ra­k­ou, RSA lawy­er working on the case stres­sed: “Azzat’s case shows not just the fail­u­re of the Greek aut­ho­ri­ties to pro­tect unac­com­pa­nied child­ren but also that of other EU Sta­tes such as Ger­ma­ny that eva­de their respon­si­bi­li­ty by app­ly­ing Dub­lin rules in a very nar­row man­ner. We call the Greek Asyl­um Ser­vice to send a new request under Dub­lin Regu­la­ti­on to Ger­ma­ny and for the Ger­man aut­ho­ri­ties to allow Azzat* to reu­ni­te with his fami­ly. More time in Greece in such con­di­ti­ons will have a detri­men­tal effect for the life of this young and trau­ma­ti­zed boy”.

*Names changed