For hopeless migrant and unaccompanied children at the Greece Islands, hope seems to be on its way. The consoling words from the UN High Commissioner of Refugees Filippo Grandi to the 5000 children in Greece during his visit sounds relieving. Reported by UNHCR The Refugee Brief, he said “You need to make sure, even extra sure, because they are children, that they are properly accommodated in safe places and not exposed to risk,” as he reassured them of UNHCR’s commitment. This, he emphasized, is the backbone of his discussions with the Greece government as he admonished them to provide efficient and impartial asylum processes, provide basic facilities and tackle the huge overcrowding difficulties in the islands. These children need special accommodation facilities on the mainland he added in accordance with the Prime Minister’s announced new scheme.
Greece has been battling the management of a massive influx of refugees in the last 3 decades. According to the New Humanitarian, an estimated 44,000 asylum seekers from Turkey via the Aegean Sea have taken refuge in Greece islands in 2019. This number is a 30 percent increase based on the 32,500 who came there in 2018 compared to the 2015 and 2016 figures.
Greece like many European nations needs to be commended for her generosity and openness to host and support refugees despite her national economic situation. However, efforts to ensure the protection of the rights of children should be treated with special concern.
Articles 20 and 22 of the International Convention on the Rights of the Child stipulates “Unaccompanied or separated children are children temporarily or permanently deprived of their family environment and, as such, are beneficiaries of States’ obligations under article 20 of the Convention and shall be entitled to special protection and assistance provided by the relevant State.
Mechanisms established under national law in order to ensure alternative care for such children in accordance with article 22 of the Convention, shall also cover unaccompanied or separated children outside their country of origin. A wide range of options for care and accommodation arrangements exist and are explicitly acknowledged in article 20 (3) as follows: “… inter alia, foster placement, kafalah of Islamic law, adoption or, if necessary, placement in suitable institutions for the care of children”.
When selecting from these options, the particular vulnerabilities of such a child, not only having lost connection with his or her family environment but further finding him or herself outside of his or her country of origin, as well as the child’s age and gender, should be taken into account. In particular, due regard ought to be taken of the desirability of continuity in a child’s upbringing and to the ethnic, religious, cultural and linguistic background as assessed in the identification, registration and documentation process. Such care and accommodation arrangements should comply with the following parameters: children should not, as a general rule, be deprived of liberty…”
It is seemingly impossible to prevent the movement of children during conflicts or other natural disasters. There have been millions of children who arrive at contemporary state borders seeking entry and protection. Some have been turned away, others considered invisible and many regarded as overwhelming petitioners. For the sake of the younger generation and humanity, there is a pressing need for refugee children to be subjects of international and national discourses. Greece’s actions to respond to these children could be the first step, but the international community needs to engage more in supporting the wellbeing of migrant and unaccompanied children especially by financially supporting host countries.