The only thing necessary for the persistence of evil is for enough good people to do nothing

No Prisons for Children

[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.

Via the United Nations Refugee Agency

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.


Please also read about the plight of Afghan teenagers in Europe

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30 Comments

  1. Xenos
    August 31, 2009    

    I have interviewed some asylum-seekers who arrived in Greece more than 10 years ago. My expertise is not asylum, so I don’t get involved in formal large-scale research of the quality of HRW…

    One person is now 26 and arrived in Greece at 15 years old. He was from Iraq and joined the PKK at 14 then left it. He told me of the physical abuse he received from the police (he still suffers from stomach pains caused by that), the rotting food that made everyone seriously ill, and the lack of asylum process at all. He asked to register for asylum and they refused. They put him in with adults, in handcuffs. They lost the key and accused him of stealing it. Then he was taken to court accused of stealing the key and was sentenced to 3 months in prison. In prison, in Komotini, they provided no food or water and he had to buy it from shopkeepers who visited the prison…

    So, when our little Greek and even British friends in the UK start moaning about the UK asylum system, bear in mind that Greece has always run an abuse regime with fake legal process and zero human rights. Nothing has changed, except that HRW and Pro-Asyl have started to plau political games with the Greek state and expose the horrors. UNHCR has kept quiet, in the desperate hope that behind-the-scenes activism might change things. The Ombudsman has also been involved in the last years with physical conditions of detention. However, the mentality of the Ministry has not changed, and will not. The governments of Greece are responsible for this mess, and refuse to take responsibility for human rights abuses of children and non-Greek refugees.

    Of course, ethnic Greeks are welcomed and given handouts…

  2. Stassa
    September 1, 2009    

    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.

    What good is this, DeviousDiva? And who does it help? You’re telling people “do something now”. Well, what are you doing? Besides blogging about it? You see an accident and you stand there going “someone call an ambulance”? No, you call the ambulance. It’s the same thing I said about the fires. You can’t expect it all from the government. They’re incompetent idiots, but that’s exactly why you can’t sit around blaming them when your house is burning: because blame won’t stop the fire. And it won’t stop the kids being locked up.

    So you want something done about it? You’re a democratic citizen, it’s your right to organise and take action. If you want my opinion, it’s your duty but whatever. So, I don’t know. Join and NGO. Write a letter to a newspaper. Mobilise your neighbours, organise a fundraiser, campaign, go to Lesvos and try to work with the children there. Like you said: find solutions. You find solutions.

  3. Diva has a blog
    September 1, 2009    

    Stassa, I disagree with you. I think Diva’s blog is a solution! She brings the dirt to light for us who may not know it exists. The Mainstream chauvinistic Greek media is too busy showing over made-up women in mini-skirts doing the weather, and reporting on the rare individual swine flu case to care about things like immigrants and Roma. So, I think DIVA’s blog is a wonderful solution!

  4. Xenos
    September 1, 2009    

    Stassa: DD’s blog is important, because it educates Greeks and others about the appalling mess here. In the past, the Greek state covered up everything, with fake representations to the UN, denial of basic facts, propaganda…

    The internet, whilst permitting all sorts of nasty racists, also allows decent people to post and read about the injustices and illegalities being perpetrated. Before the internet, HRW and others were much less effective, for example. Don’t underestimate the power of knowledge.

  5. Stassa
    September 1, 2009    

    I am certainly not attacking DeviousDiva’s blog as useless or antyhing of the kind. But I did find this particular post to be unfair to Greeks, who are very sensitive when it comes to children in particular. It’s no accident that people from abroad find that Greece is a good place for your kids to grow up. In any case, I don’t think that blogging is any solution, no. What I do consider a solution is action, like the one taken by citizens in lesvos and Samos, who stopped the illegal deportations of hundreds of asylum seekers and are taking action against the detention of the children. Here, for example:

    Action against the presence of Frontex have taken place recently in Mytilini, especially after the revelations about the squalid living conditions of the underaged asylum seekers who are literally packed on each other at the detention center in Panagi.

    After the mobilisation, two days ago, of the inhabitants of Mytilini, during the No BORDER CAMP 2009 that is taking place these days in the area, about 200 asylum seekers were freed while there assurances were given that until Tuesday [today] 450 people will have left for Athens. Those taking part gathered at the port in order to express their opposition to the presence of Frontex, while some of them got into inflatable dinghies and attempted the symbolic blockade of the port’s entrance, at the time the boat “Lissos” was sailing off.

    The article has more information about the citizens’ actions and that of a local NGO, against the deportation of asylum seekers in general. This has been going on for quite some time by the way- citizens stopping busloads of refugees that the authorities are trying to smuggle off Samos etc. It’s not DeviousDiva’s fault, but if those news do not reach people through the mainstream media, and all that English-speaking readers of DeviousDiva’s blog have to go on to gauge the public’s reactions to the plight of refugees are her posts and Xeno’s ubiquitous comments, then maybe they’re not really forming a realistic image, here. I find that posts like this, which are very emotional and seem to blame us -you know, “find a solution now”, “be better than the countries you blame”?- are not helping to clear up the issue of what Greeks seem to think of the whole affair.

    Basically, it’s one thing to say that the government is corrupt and the authorities inept, and that there is a strong undercurrent of nationalism and racism in Greece, but to paint a picture of the majority of Greeks as racists, who dont’ give a shit about refugees and blame them for all the trouble the country is in, is inaccurate. To put it very politely.

  6. Stassa
    September 1, 2009    

    Oh, sorry. The link to that article (it’s in Greek):

    http://www.tvxs.gr/v19311

  7. Xenos
    September 1, 2009    

    Stassa: did you not read my first post here. I have already explained to you that Greece has a recent history of abuse of immigrant children (and Roma children). We can do without sentimental nonsense such as “Greeks are very sensitive about children”… GREECE TREATS CHILDREN LIKE ANIMALS

  8. Xenos
    September 1, 2009    

    And the fact that there are small groups of people (in any country) who take independent action does not invalidate criticism of offical state policy. For decades, there have been protesters against nuclear weapons across Europe (Greenham Common in the UK, for example). Those countries still have nuclear weapons despite such protests.

    In Greece, neither Pasok nor ND supports children’s rights. If you think we are being unfair to Greek people, I do not. You are responsible for your governments and your political parties. And yes, I was aware of the leftist actions on Lesvos: it is good that it happened, but the criticism of Greece still stands.

  9. Stassa
    September 1, 2009    

    And the fact that there are small groups of people (in any country) who take independent action does not invalidate criticism of offical state policy.

    So when you say that Greeks are evil racists who eat kiddies for breakfast, you mean just the government, or everyone but the small leftist minority?

  10. Xenos
    September 1, 2009    

    DD: here is one of several sites about the prison on Lesvos. http://lesvos09.antira.info/ It seems to be organised mainly by international activists, though.

    Srassa:

    “So when you say that Greeks are evil racists who eat kiddies for breakfast, you mean just the government, or everyone but the small leftist minority?

    You know perfectly fucking well that I said no such thing. Don’t play your Greek games with me.

  11. Xenos
    September 1, 2009    

    Apologies DD: I just saw that you linked to the Lesvos blog already.

  12. September 1, 2009    

    Yes it’s emotional (I’m a blogger not a journalist) but please note that I did write

    I cannot believe that any Greek person could look at the way their country treats these children and not be outraged.

    That is certainly not trying to

    paint a picture of the majority of Greeks as racists, who dont’ give a shit about refugees and blame them for all the trouble the country is in, is inaccurate

    That is being a bit unfair don’t you think ?

    Noborder Camp Lesvos 2009 have their own blog here. There are many small leftie groups who organise actions etc. I am not affiliated to any of them (and do not wish to be) although I admire their non-violent protests.

    I’m afraid I am not aware of the locals actions in Lesvos and elsewhere. Unfortunately, I am at the mercy of the MSM too. If you (or anyone) has time to translate any of the articles that are relevant to the issues on this blog, I would be incredibly grateful. I do not have the time or skill to do this myself.

  13. September 1, 2009    

    I have been blogging about this issue as well. I have designed some posters and stencils that might prove useful.High(ish) resolution version can be downloaded from my site.

    Xenos, insulting entire populations solely on the basis of their ethnic background is the very essence of racism. It’s not smart, it’s not clever.

    http://teacherdudebbq.blogspot.com

    BTW way the photograph you have is by Afrodite Al Salech who blogs about such issues here in Greek.

    http://afroditealsalech.blogspot.com/

    And here is English

    http://afroditealsalech2.blogspot.com/

  14. Stassa
    September 2, 2009    

    Hmm, DeviousDiva, let’s make this clear.

    This:

    I cannot believe that any Greek person could look at the way their country treats these children and not be outraged.

    is not a problem. This:

    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.

    is.

    I understand that you can’t get all that’s happening from the mainstream media… but then, you’re not the mainstream media. Anyway, no, I can’t do all those translations for you. Maybe you could put stuff through online translators for a rough draft and try to work from there? Or maybe someone else will do it for you.

    Look, I know you take a lot of criticism for discussing those “taboo” subjects already. But like I said, outrage can only get you that far. Yeah, people are outraged and they’re very ashamed of what their country’s authorities are doing in their name. So don’t turn on them

    That’s all I’m saying. And here’s some positive reinforcement, in case you need some: ::power::

  15. Xenos
    September 2, 2009    

    Craig: I am older and wiser than you, and have been dealing with Greeks since 1995. Let me assure you that it is not racist to identify cultural behaviour patterns, which I find extremely annoying and will not tolerate. I realise that Brits think it politically incorrect, but hard cheese. I have suffered enough living in Greece not to care about opinions.

  16. Xenos
    September 2, 2009    

    Typo in my last post: since 1985. (10 years makes a difference)

  17. September 1, 2009    

    I am so sorry. I completely forgot to credit the photograph! I’ve corrected my mistake.

  18. Travlos Konstantinos
    September 2, 2009    

    “I am older and wiser than you”

    careful there Xenos. That is a Greek attitude, not always wise. We are rubbing off on you eh no?

  19. Xenos
    September 2, 2009    

    There is no doubt that I have changed my responses to things since living in Greece. When I return to the UK, I have to be careful to abide by British social standards.

    Anyway, the older and wiser thing was merely a rebuke of a rebuke — not to be taken too literally :-)

  20. PimFortujin
    September 2, 2009    

    Let me assure you that it is not racist to identify cultural behaviour patterns, which I find extremely annoying and will not tolerate.

    I agree but this unfortunately reminds me of some European right-wingers on the subject of immigrants from Islamic countries.

  21. Xenos
    September 2, 2009    

    Pim: Interesting comment. I need to conceptualise more clearly the issue of tolerance of cultural difference — why some things should be tolerated and others not.

    My preliminary answer is that I think I should tolerate cultural difference in how people lead their private and family lives, provided that such difference is not seriously in conflict with the fundamental social values or laws in the host society. I think I should not tolerate cultural differences that emerge in the public sphere and are incompatible with basic western values. In particular, I think that I should not tolerate things that are deliberate “tricks” which are trying to manipulate, to misrepresent, to gain a false advantage (in debate, in financial dealings, etc).

    The only problem that I see with this position, is that in Greece such “tricks” are regarded as perfectly normal. Of course, they are used by second rate politicians and crooks world-wide, but most western educated people are appalled by this way of behaving. My position is that Greeks are not Europeans culturally, and should be more conscious of how their behaviour will be received by others.

  22. PimFortujin
    September 2, 2009    

    Thanks for your answer, Xenos. I agree with many of your points. The problem I see here is that Greece is a part of the EU but it isn’t, or at least you don’t consider it to be, “culturally European”. So, it has to “Westernise” but at the same time might refuse to.

    The vast majority of people care little about what (they THINK) doesn’t concern them, DeviousDiva. Your blog is obviously one little step in the right direction!

    Have you ever thought about translating your posts into Greek as well? This might reach a larger audience in Greece itself (no, I know that Greek-English bilingualism is standard these days).

  23. September 2, 2009    

    I understand what you’re saying Stassa. It was an angry response to the “We’re not as bad as the Brits, Americans (insert country of choice)” attitude that is so common here.

    I was just asking about translations (as I do from time to time) in a general way. I really don’t have the time or the skill to do it. I also understand that other people don’t have the time to do it either. I have been so grateful to those people who have sent me translations in the past. It’s fantastic knowing that people genuinely support my efforts (as little as they are) in bringing some of these issues to the forefront. Thank you again. :-)

    It was certainly not my intention to turn on individuals here. I know that most Greeks are as outraged about what is going on in their name but they are also responsible for voting for people who have no interest in them. let alone in what happens to immigrants in their country.

    No. Outrage is not enough but it is a start. Sometimes only outrage can get us out of our little bubbles and prompt us to actually engage in the society we have made rather than sitting back and allowing things to be done “in our name”. Outrage prompted many great movements towards social change. Of course it’s not enough just to be outraged and that is not what drives me to continue this humble blog. My desire is for change and this is one way I am trying to bring this about. It’s minor I know. I am not on the frontlines as some people are. There are obviously things that I am involved in that I cannot divulge on this blog. It’s certainly not enough and I can always strive to do more. Thanks for the reminder AND the ::power:: :-)

  24. Xenos
    September 2, 2009    

    THis latest EuroBarometer survey on the rights of the child makes interesting reading. Particularly the views from Romania and Greece…

    http://ec.europa.eu/public_opinion/flash/fl_273_en.pdf

  25. deviousdiva
    September 2, 2009    

    @PimFortujin
    I have thought about it and at some points I have actively looked for people who would be interested in doing a mirror site in Greek. This has proved to be impossible. Who has the time or inclination to translate a blog, let alone for an English expat? lol :-)

    My best solution was to have the translate tool at the top of the sidebar. It’s a pretty instant translation of the whole blog into Greek. It’s not perfect but it’s better than nothing I think?

    And I am always on the look out though… even after four years!

  26. Stassa
    September 2, 2009    

    There are obviously things that I am involved in that I cannot divulge on this blog.

    Well, I thought you might. Cool and more ::power:: to you :)

  27. September 15, 2009    

    Hi, Where are you from? Is it a secret? :)

  28. September 18, 2009    

    Onload of page my antivirus put alert, check pls.
    Tania

  29. September 27, 2009    

    Hi,
    Thanks for article. Everytime like to read you.

  30. September 29, 2009    

    deviousdiva.com to GoogleReader!

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