An estimated 75% of child refugees stranded alone in Greece do not have a safe place to stay, warns Save the Children
Vulnerable lone children are being left out in the cold in Greece as the demand for safe shelters and adequate services far outstrips the supply, Save the Children said ahead of Pope Francis’ visit to Lesvos today with Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I and Archbishop Ieronymo.
An estimated 2,000 unaccompanied children who travelled alone to Europe or lost their families along the way are now stranded in Greece following recent border closures, while only 477 shelter spaces are available for these children countrywide.* These shelters have been full for weeks, meaning new arrivals have nowhere to stay or they are held in detention centres and police cells for long periods of time. This puts vulnerable and often traumatised children at risk of abuse, exploitation by people traffickers, disease and psychological distress.
Save the Children’s Team Leader in Greece, Amy Frost, said: “Children who have made the journey to Europe to seek safety without the protection of family members are extremely vulnerable. They are sleeping rough in increasingly volatile unofficial accommodation sites, are being incarcerated in detention centres and are slipping through the cracks of the system. They are at risk of violence, abuse and exploitation by people traffickers.”
"The Pope and Patriarch's example and gesture of solidarity in travelling to Lesvos should be followed by Europe's leaders. Instead of resorting to expulsions and detention centres, they should be sharing the responsibility of helping families and children – particularly children traveling alone – who are fleeing violence and destruction.”
In Lesvos, there are more than 150 lone children held in the First Reception Centre (FRC) in Moria detention centre or ‘hotspot’, which the religious leaders will visit today. Children are getting sick and say there are regular fights and theft inside the facility. An additional 57 children are detained in another section of Moria because the FRC is full. This section is managed by the police.
“The Greek government does not have the resources to shelter and protect lone children stranded in Greece, and as a result, a number of them are being detained in police custody for weeks in extremely bad conditions,” said Frost.
“The 57 children in the section managed by the police in Moria detention centre are living in dirty rooms without enough beds. They don’t have access to legal services or other types of urgently needed basic support, and some of them haven’t been registered. Save the Children has serious concerns about their mental and physical wellbeing.
“The EU has let down children travelling alone and has abandoned its obligations by rushing to close borders and implement the EU-Turkey deal without ensuring that legal safeguards are in place. The EU seems solely concerned with pushing people, including the most vulnerable, far from its shores as quickly as possible. Pope Francis is telling the world there can be a more compassionate way to deal with the refugee crisis and Save the Children agrees.”
Save the Children believes that detention is never in the best interests of the child. We call on the Greek authorities to stop the detention of children and on the EU to urgently provide support to increase the number of safe shelter facilities for children arriving in Greece alone in line with European and International standards.
At the northern Greece border, children travelling alone are sleeping in informal shelters and continue to be exposed to abuse, violence and exploitation. Most of them were on their way to reunite with family members in Western Europe when the borders shut overnight a month ago, leaving them trapped in a transit facility along with another 12,500 people. Other children travelling alone are living in similar conditions across the country.
Many lone children enter Greece but fail to register, and are therefore completely off the radars of humanitarian and governmental agencies. In the ‘hotspots’ on the islands, lone children are sometimes registered as adults or accompanied by others, and therefore do not receive the support they are entitled to and risk deportation.
Save the Children, in partnership with PRAKSIS, runs shelters for children arriving alone in Greece – one on Lesvos and one soon to open on Samos. The shelters are operated in coordination with local authorities. The shelters serve as a viable alternative to detention and provide safe and appropriate care and protection for unaccompanied children.
- According to the government organisation National Center for Social Solidarity (E.K.K.A)