For Immediate Release
Greece: Migrant Children Held in Deplorable Conditions
End Unjustified Detention of Vulnerable Unaccompanied Kids
ATHENS - Greek police routinely lock up unaccompanied children in small, overcrowded, and unhygienic cells for weeks and months, Human Rights Watch said in a new report released today.
Greek law says unaccompanied children may be detained for 25 days pending transfer to a shelter, and for up to 45 days in very limited cases. Human Rights Watch found that children were often detained for longer than these already excessive periods, with an average stay of 40 days. “Javed S.,” a 16-year-old boy from Afghanistan who had been in police custody for 52 days, said, “The situation is very bad…I feel alone here, far from my family, from my friends…I need to get out of this hell.” Greek police detained 161 unaccompanied children in the first six months of 2016.
Children face extremely poor conditions. In some cases, they were made to live and sleep in overcrowded, filthy, bug- and vermin-infested cells, sometimes without mattresses, and were deprived of appropriate sanitation, hygiene, and privacy. Some were held with adults even though this increases the risk of abuse and sexual violence and violates international and national laws requiring the separation of adults from children in detention.
The problem has grown more acute after significant arrivals by sea to Greek islands – more than 160,000 people arrived in the first seven months of 2016 – and border closures to the north, which have effectively trapped asylum seekers and migrants in Greece. According to the National Center for Social Solidarity, Greece has only 800 shelter spaces for unaccompanied children. As of August 11, 2016, all facilities were full with 1,472 requests for placement pending.
The EU’s emergency relocation plan, adopted in September 2015 and intended to move 66,400 asylum seekers from Greece to other EU countries, has provided little relief. As of September 2, only 49 unaccompanied children had been relocated. On an August visit to Greece, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi, emphasized the need for EU member states to accelerate transfer of asylum seekers out of Greece, through family reunification and relocation. EU member states rejected a plea from Greece in June to make all unaccompanied children eligible for relocation, regardless of nationality.
“It is hard when I think about how many days I’ve been inside. There’s nothing to do. The only thing we do is think, talk to each other, and sleep. There’s no TV, no books, and the wall is black from the dirt…. [T]he water is too cold and we can’t shower.” – “Wasim T.,” a 16-year-old Kurdish boy who said he fled Mosul after his father was executed by ISIS, interviewed at a police station in Filiates.
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Human Rights Watch is one of the world's leading independent organizations dedicated to defending and protecting human rights. By focusing international attention where human rights are violated, we give voice to the oppressed and hold oppressors accountable for their crimes. Our rigorous, objective investigations and strategic, targeted advocacy build intense pressure for action and raise the cost of human rights abuse. For 30 years, Human Rights Watch has worked tenaciously to lay the legal and moral groundwork for deep-rooted change and has fought to bring greater justice and security to people around the world.