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Save the Children Suspends Support Services on Greek Island Detention Centres Following EU-Turkey Deal

Following initial implementation of the EU-Turkey deal that came into effect on 20 March 2016, Save the Children has suspended all activities related to supporting basic services at all detention centres on the Greek islands due to extreme concerns that newly-arrived vulnerable children and their families are in danger of unlawful and unjustified custody for sustained periods of time.

Currently, all asylum seekers and migrants arriving on the islands after Monday, regardless of their status, are now being placed in the newly designated detention centres until their individual 'admissibility' interview and assessment take place.

"Asylum applications, interviews, and assessments could take weeks, or even months, and the result is that asylum-seekers are, and will, be placed in unlawful detention, contrary to International and European Human Rights Law," said Janti Soeripto, Interim CEO of Save the Children International.

While the European Commission has clarified that 'Irregular migrants may be held in closed reception centres on the Greek islands, and asylum seekers will be accommodated in open reception centres,' at present, this does not appear to be the case in reality, according to Save the Children teams on the ground.

"There is no possible way that the sudden turnaround of reception centre hotspots into detention centres can happen in line with international and European legal requirements, and this will be in particular to the detriment of children," continued Soeripto.

"We already know that among those being detained are unaccompanied children who are particularly vulnerable as they require specialist support and protection which they cannot receive in their current environment, and we remind authorities that the detention of children is unlawful and never in their best interests.

"Furthermore, maintaining family unity should never be used to justify the detention of children. Children and their families should always be in appropriate accommodation in line with the best interests of children.

"As conditions are worsening in Greece, the first priority should be to address humanitarian concerns and deal with the existing protection needs."

Save the Children has suspended all basic service support activities in detention centres on Lesvos, Chios, Samos, Kos and Leros until further notice, including the provision of bus transport to the centres on Lesvos, the distribution of basic cooking, shelter, and winter provisions, and food distribution in Moria camp on Lesvos, which has been taken over by the Greek Armed Forces.

"We will however maintain food distribution in collaboration with Oxfam only in Kara Tepe camp on Lesvos, which is run by the local municipality and remains an open facility, and will also maintain some child protection activities in all closed centres due to ongoing concerns regarding the living conditions of the children inside," said Soeripto.

Save the Children is also alarmed about the proposed forced returns to Turkey, particularly the possibility of the rejection of asylum applications in Greece without examination if they are found to be 'inadmissible', and the lack of capacity in Greece to administer asylum seekers' rights to appeal.

Save the Children reiterated concerns around the imminent 'return one to resettle' one scheme for Syrians.

"It is shameful that Europe is finding ways to cut back on commitments already made to offer safe and legal routes for vulnerable refugees into Europe - the result is that the number of these routes is now actually diminishing, not to mention that their availability in this scheme still requires people to risk their lives at sea," Soeripto warned.

"It is clear that the main message of the EU-Turkey deal agreement is the prevalence of maintaining borders over saving lives."