In a Press Release in Geneva on Friday, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) warned authorities of the growing vulnerability of children living in Greek Island Reception Centres. This warning comes after a 32 percent rise in the number of migrants seeking refuge on the Greek Islands, where overcrowded and poor facility conditions have created a ‘dire and dangerous’ situation for children. As migration flows are expected to increase in the coming months, UNICEF is urging authorities to relocate children to the safety of the mainland.
The appeal was given by the UNICEF Country Coordinator in Greece, Lucio Melandri, who said that “Children are exposed to any kind of threat: direct threats; abuse, violence, riots.” Additionally, Melandri explained that children are also exposed to indirect threats such as a lack of access to nutrition, hygiene, and education. “Greek authorities and communities have done as much as they can to support refugee and migrant children – but they can no longer cope with the sheer numbers and needs,” Melandri added, suggesting that other EU nations need to take responsibility for the increased migration flows. This year, the Asylum Information Database (AIDA) referred to the condition of some Island camps as “extremely alarming,” while Human Rights Watch argued that such camps deny children their right to education.
The living situation that migrants entering Greece face is alarming, particularly as the numbers of children and families entering these camps continue to rise. Such a situation is the result of poor infrastructure and inadequate EU policies designed to cope with surges in migration flows. As discussed by UNICEF, centers such as in Moria which have a capacity of 3,100 people are housing almost 9,000 people, of which approximately 1,700 are children. Greek law is also failing to prevent the rights abuses of migrants. For example, the UNICEF noted that while children are legally meant to spend a maximum of 25 days within the Island Centres, some have spent up to a year in limbo – waiting for the protection offered on the mainland. This reflects Greece’s lack of resources, which Melandri urged could be eased by other EU nations taking responsibility for the crisis. UNICEF lastly suggested that another way to protect those most vulnerable would be to accelerate the screening process of migrants or to simply prioritize children and their families in this process.
Increasing migration flows to Greece reflect continuing civil wars in countries such as Syria, Afghanistan, and Iraq. For example, the UN Refugee Agency stated that this year 32% of Greek arrivals were from Syria, while approximately 40% were from Iraq or Afghanistan. Greece has experienced an unequal burden of the migration crisis, as a result of the EU’s Dublin Convention which states that migrants must be processed in their country of arrival. Its housing challenges also reflect the 2016 EU-Turkey Action Plan, which saw European borders close, thus preventing migrants from reaching the Greek mainland. Despite the UNICEF’s best efforts to protect migrants, such as by providing children with more access to health care and education, fears for the wellbeing of those in Greece’s camps remain high.
The UNICEF’s recent warnings spark high concern for vulnerable groups, including children, in Greece’s overcrowded and run-down camps. While this issue has been persisting for years, the expected increase in migration to Greece in the coming months could worsen the crisis. It is now up to Greece to prioritize and accelerate the visa applications of children and their families. Additionally, EU nations must help ease this pressure on Greece by sharing migration responsibility.
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