In a joint statement, 65 organisations warned of the dangers to the safety and health of approximately 1,800 unaccompanied minors stuck on Greek islands.

Dozens of NGOs have issued a joint statement calling on the EU to take immediate action to ensure the welfare of unaccompanied minors stuck in refugee camps on Greek islands.

Refugee Rights Europe (RRE), Human Rights Watch, and other organisations say that child refugees are subject to dangerous and inhumane conditions on the islands.

RRE estimates that around 1,800 children are on Greek islands without parents or guardians.

The statement calls on the EU to take these children to safety in other European states.

Thousands of refugees and migrants remain stuck on Greek islands, having reached via Turkey in the hope of later transiting to other EU states. 

With Ankara’s easing of border controls in late February, more are expected to arrive.

“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.” 

A woman wipes her face as she waits near the entrance of Moria camp, Lesvos. Days of heavy rain worsened already poor conditions for people waiting to be registered. A river formed where people had been sitting in line and several people were taken to a NGO medical facility a few kilometers away after losing consciousness.
A woman wipes her face as she waits near the entrance of Moria camp, Lesvos. Days of heavy rain worsened already poor conditions for people waiting to be registered. A river formed where people had been sitting in line and several people were taken to a NGO medical facility a few kilometers away after losing consciousness. (Gabriel Green / NGO Handout)

‘Inhuman conditions’

According to the coalition of organisations, the children trapped on the Greek Islands are deprived of basic rights, such as access to shelter, adequate nutrition, and medical and psychological help.

Those who cannot get access to proper accommodation have to make do sleeping rough.

“Lone children on the Greek islands are being deprived of the most basic necessities of life and living in inhuman conditions,” said Eva Cosse, a Greece researcher at HRW.

The conditions have led to incidents of self-harm and attempted suicide among children, according to psychologists working with the refugees.

Other conditions reported include anxiety, depression and insomnia.

Arriving on the island of Lesvos by rubber dinghy, asylum seekers walk along a dirt road towards the town of Eftalou. At the time this photo was taken, more than 3,000 asylum-seekers arrived per day, according to the United Nations High Commission for Refugees. Conditions for asylum seekers in and around Moria camp, Lesvos have only worsened since then.
Arriving on the island of Lesvos by rubber dinghy, asylum seekers walk along a dirt road towards the town of Eftalou. At the time this photo was taken, more than 3,000 asylum-seekers arrived per day, according to the United Nations High Commission for Refugees. Conditions for asylum seekers in and around Moria camp, Lesvos have only worsened since then. (Gabriel Green / NGO Handout)

Legal obstacles

Children under 15 cannot get access to legal help under Greek law without a legal guardian. Providing them with guardianship has proven difficult since the main NGO helping children obtain it, METAdrasi, was forced to end its programme due to a lack of funding.

“Hundreds of children are stuck in a dangerous limbo,” said Lefteris Papagiannakis, head of advocacy, policy and research at Solidarity Now. 

“A child under 15 needs consent from a guardian to access legal support. But many children have no guardian, and no way to get the help they need. 

“Many are trapped in terrifying conditions, unable to apply to reunite with family in other countries.” 

The NGOs called on the EU to take responsibility for the situation and ensure children stuck on the islands are taken to safety.

“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.” 

Asylum seekers paddle a rubber raft through rough seas. Their motor stopped working as they were crossing the Aegean Sea from the North coast of Turkey to the island of Lesvos.
Asylum seekers paddle a rubber raft through rough seas. Their motor stopped working as they were crossing the Aegean Sea from the North coast of Turkey to the island of Lesvos. (Gabriel Green / NGO Handout)
Source: TRT World