[Photograph by Afrodite Al Salech]
Unaccompanied, undocumented children are not criminals. They have done nothing wrong. They have escaped from unspeakable situations, been separated from or lost their parents and are relying on Greece to help them survive. To give them a chance. They should never be behind bars. This is deeply, deeply disturbing.
UNHCR, the United Nations refugee agency, on Monday ordered the immediate closure of an immigrant reception centre on the north-eastern Greek island of Lesvos, saying it did not meet with European human right standards.
“We have to immediately close the centre because it does not meet with either European or Greek human right standards,” said UNHCR representative Giorgos Tsarbopoulos, following the inspection of the the over-populated camp for under-aged individuals located in Agiassos.
He said that another immigrant camp located in Pagani, just outside of the island’s capital, does not have running water and only one toilet for every 100 people.
Can you imagine being kept in a room with 150 women and 50 babies ? Or sharing one toilet between a hundred people ? It is more than unacceptable. It is inhumane, cruel and absolutely shameful.
The United Nations refugee agency said it was shocked by the conditions at a detention facility on the Greek island of Lesvos which was overcrowded and holding 200 unaccompanied children.
Staff from the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) visited the detention centre at Pagani, built to hold between 250 and 300 people, earlier this week, according to the agency’s spokesperson Andrej Mahecic.
“They were shocked at the conditions in the facility, where more than 850 people are held, including 200 unaccompanied children, mostly from Afghanistan,” he told reporters in Geneva today.
UNHCR staff described the condition of the centre as “unacceptable,” he stated, adding that one room houses over 150 women and 50 babies, many suffering from illness related to the cramped and unsanitary conditions of the centre.
Greece’s Deputy Minister of Health and Social Solidarity has assured UNHCR that all the unaccompanied children at Pagani will be transferred to special reception facilities by the end of the month, and some measures have already been taken.
Mr. Mahecic noted that the situation in Pagani is “indicative of broader problems relating to irregular migration and Greece’s asylum system,” which UNHCR has been trying to assist with.
Last year, it worked with Greek officials to elaborate proposals to completely overhaul the country’s asylum system, including specific measures to protect asylum-seeking children, but these have yet to be implemented.
The agency also pointed out that while nearly 2,700 unaccompanied children are known to have arrived in the country last year, many more are believed to have entered undetected.
“Greece has no process for assessing the individual needs and best interests of these children,” said Mr. Mahecic. “While the Government has made efforts to increase the number of places for children at specialized, open centres, arrivals outstrip these efforts and children remain in detention for long periods.”
The agency is involved in a project aimed at improving reception facilities on the islands of Samos, Chios and Lesvos and at the Evros land border, he added.
Find solutions and close these prisons now. Be better than the countries you blame for creating these problems. Be better than the people you blame for these problems. I cannot believe that any Greek person could look at the way their country treats these children and not be outraged.