EU member states must relocate separated children from Greece, say NGOs

By agency reporter
March 5, 2020

European Union member states should urgently relocate unaccompanied children from the Greek islands to safety in their territory, 65 human rights, humanitarian and civil society organisations said in a statement released on 4 March 2020. The groups warned of widespread violations of children's rights and threats to their health and safety across the Aegean islands' refugee camps. Action is all the more urgent in light of the escalating violence on Lesbos and as increased arrivals to the islands could lead to further deterioration of the appalling conditions in the camps.

"The EU 'hotspots' on the Aegean islands are entirely unsuitable and in some cases life-threatening places for unaccompanied children", said Stephanie Pope, EU policy and advocacy manager at Refugee Rights Europe. "Each EU state only needs to accept a small number of unaccompanied children to end the intolerable situation these children are in. We believe the EU can do better."

Over 1,800 unaccompanied children are struggling to survive on the Greek islands, the groups said. Children are deprived of their fundamental rights, such as access to shelter, water, food, medical, and psychosocial (mental health) care, as well as education. They are exposed to inhuman and degrading living conditions. Many children cannot secure a place in specialised accommodation for unaccompanied children because of lack of space, and are forced to face unsanitary and dangerous conditions, with many sleeping outdoors.

"The new tensions at the Greek-Turkish border highlight how the 2016 EU-Turkey deal on migration turned human beings in desperate need of safety and dignity into political bargaining chips", said Oxfam International's Deputy Director for Advocacy, Marissa Ryan. "Children and other vulnerable people are being abandoned in refugee camps where most people never feel safe and many suffer from incredible trauma. This is inhumane and, frankly, unacceptable."

"Unaccompanied migrant children are some of the most vulnerable people in the world", said Eva Cossé, Greece researcher at Human Rights Watch. "Yet lone children on the Greek islands are being deprived of the most basic necessities of life and living in inhuman conditions."

"Unaccompanied children stuck on the Greek islands must be urgently assisted. Exposed to multiple dangers, many are forced to sleep out in the open, without essential support to alleviate their suffering or uphold their rights. All the children must be protected. Those with family in other parts of Europe must be reunited with them. This can happen through existing reunification channels or new bilateral agreements between Member States and Greece", added Dimitra Kalogeropoulou, Head of Office, IRC Greece.

Psychologists working with unaccompanied children on Lesbos have told the media that an increasing number of children are harming themselves and attempting suicide. Unaccompanied children interviewed by one of the groups reported anxiety, depression, recurrent headaches, and insomnia.

Delays in the registration process, and the lack of representation and legal support for unaccompanied children in the hotspots, undermine their ability to reunite with family members in other EU countries. A three-month deadline for the submission of a family reunification request is often unmet because unaccompanied children are not identified during that period.

EU countries should share responsibility and relocate unaccompanied children out of Greece while ensuring that their best interests are taken into account and facilitate family reunification. Relocating unaccompanied children would contribute to securing durable solutions for them.

EU countries should take into account the humanitarian emergency on the Greek islands when it comes to deadlines for submitting family reunification requests, the groups said. For children who missed the deadline, they should make use of the 'discretionary clause' of the Dublin III Regulation, that determines which EU Member State is responsible for the examination of an application for asylum.

"It is a disgrace to humanity and a stain on the conscience of Europe that vulnerable children are left sleeping rough in a living hell," said Josie Naughton, CEO of Help Refugees. "This is absolutely within our power to change. We must find it in our hearts to act now."

* Read the full statement with list of signatories here

* Oxfam International


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