Let us talk about Unaccompanied minors in Greece.

An unaccompanied minor is a child without the presence of a legal guardian. The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child defines unaccompanied minors and unaccompanied children as those “who have been separated from both parents and other adult relatives and are not being cared for by an adult who, by law or custom, is responsible for doing so”

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What is an unaccompanied minor

An unaccompanied minor is a child without the presence of a legal guardian. The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child defines unaccompanied minors and unaccompanied children as those “who have been separated from both parents and other adult relatives and are not being cared for by an adult who, by law or custom, is responsible for doing so[1]. According to the standards of the protection of Unaccompanied minors[2], there are basic needs which need to be secured at any time, among them a guardian or representative to be appointed to the minor, the right to accommodation in a shelter or a foster family, child-specific social, economic, and educational rights, and many others. In addition, an unaccompanied minor needs support for the transition into adulthood and independent life, meaning integrating care arrangements and services as soon as possible. Aftercare is a core component of a durable solution, especially for adolescents. The child’s best interest should always be considered in all the decisions necessary for the minor’s care[3].

Unaccompanied Minors in Greece – The Law and the current situation

In Greece, according to the State’s Law, in case an unaccompanied minor appears within the Greek territory, the competent authorities, such as the Reception and Identification Service and the Greek Police, will have to notify the competent Public Prosecutor for Minors immediately. The Public Prosecutor for Minors will ensure that a guardian or representative is appointed for the minor’s care. In 2020 a Special Secretariat for the Protection of Unaccompanied Minors was established and falling within the competencies of the Deputy Minister of Migration and Asylum[1]. Its mission is to plan, implement and supervise the National Strategy in Greece to protect unaccompanied minors. The Special Secretariat also initiates and implements all necessary policies and actions to ensure the protection and well-being of third-country nationals and stateless individuals who are unaccompanied minors. In addition, a National Emergency Response Mechanism was established, which includes a hotline that assists in identifying and locating children in need, which is accessible in 6 languages so that people can inform the competent authorities for such cases[2] . 

It should be noted that an effort was made by all the parties who are participating in the Child Protection Sector to cease the norm of unaccompanied children being kept under protective custody until being transferred to a shelter or another safe place. More specifically, when an unaccompanied minor was identified on the mainland, the child was transferred to the closest police station for the bureaucratic process to begin; This means the child was kept in a cell or a prison (for instance, Amygdaleza in Athens[3]). There were cases of minors under 12y.o. being hosted in Child hospitals while waiting for the process; however, most unaccompanied minors were kept in jail prisons before being transferred to a proper accommodation setting. This issue concerned the Child Protection actors, as most of the children arriving through the land borders in the mainland were living under these conditions. The children were deprived of their fundamental rights and the sense of security and safety in which they should live in the first place and were also psychologically harmed by this situation. In addition, there were many reported cases of children being in protective custody for more than two months[4]. Now, this practice is delimited importantly. However, according to attestations from Child Protection Street workers, many unaccompanied minors are homeless or living in precarious conditions until a concrete solution is provided. Concerning the number of unaccompanied minors, a rapid increase in arrivals, mainly from Evros, has been recorded in recent months. At the same time, Greece’s estimated total number of unaccompanied minors stands at 2352, according to data from the Special Secretariat for the Protection of Unaccompanied Minors.[5].

As regards to the Islands and more specifically Lesvos, the number of Unaccompanied minors living in the Safe Zone in the old Moria Camp was high. The reported living conditions of the minors were also worrying[6]. After the fire in Moria Camp in 2020, the unaccompanied minors residing in the Safe Zone inside Moria camp were resettled to other places in Greece and other European countries[7]. Currently, according to the Drops Field workers, the number of unaccompanied minors in Lesvos is reduced. In total, around 180 children are staying in three shelters for minors on the island. According to the field reports, approximately 60 unaccompanied minors are also currently staying in the quarantine zone in Kara Tepe Camp, as the regulated procedure of the reception of new arrivals indicates that the new arrivals should stay in a quarantine area[8] for a certain period before being moved to other accommodation. However, the services they receive often lack to meet the standards of the fundamental rights of an unaccompanied minor; thus, meaning a proper hosting facility, medical, psychosocial, and legal aid provision according to their different and exceptional needs, educational and recreational activities. There are cases of minors who remain more than a month in the quarantine zone. As mentioned above, long-term staying in such conditions affect children’s mental health.

Regarding A Drop in the Ocean`s support to the Unaccompanied minors; since our core provision in Lesvos is Laundry Services, the field team is in close collaboration with the Authorities, IOM and Iliaktida AMKE to cover the laundry needs of the minors staying both in the shelters and the quarantine area. By covering these primary but necessary needs, we support the actors in establishing a more appropriate care environment for minors. Our primary purpose is to give people a chance. Therefore, through our specialized work, we support people and actors in improving the lives of people on the move, including unaccompanied minors.

[1] More about the Special Secretariat for the Protection of the Unaccompanied Minors on Ειδική Γραμματεία Προστασίας Ασυνόδευτων Ανηλίκων | Υπουργείο Μετανάστευσης και Ασύλου (migration.gov.gr)

[2] The hotline number is 0030- 2132128888 and 0030- 6942773030 via WhatsApp or Viber. It is available in 6 languages and the following days and hours. Monday – Friday 08:00 – 22:0 Saturday 11:00 – 19:00

[3] More on past experience of Amygdaleza in Greek Language ΑΡΣΙΣ: Εξευτελιστικές συνθήκες κράτησης 100 ανήλικων στην Αμυγδαλέζα | Η Εφημερίδα των Συντακτών (efsyn.gr)

[4] For more info on protective custody:  PRESS RELEASE – The Practice of the Protective Custody of Minors and the Concept of Child Protection | ARSIS

[5] More info about the situation in Greek Language: Αύξηση παρουσιάζει τους τελευταίους μήνες η άφιξη των ασυνόδευτων ανήλικων προσφύγων – ΑΠΕ-ΜΠΕ (amna.gr)

[6] More info on the living conditions of unaccompanied minors inside Moria Camp before the fire on DCI Greece urges EU Member States to rescue the unaccompanied minors from the Moria Camp – Defence for Children

[7] More info on the Relocation of unaccompanied minors from Moria Camp on IOM Mobilizes Emergency Assistance and Transfer of Children After Fire at Moria Camp, Lesvos | International Organization for Migration

[8] During the Reception and Identification Procedure (Διαδικασίες Υποδοχής και Ταυτοποίησης | Υπουργείο Μετανάστευσης και Ασύλου (migration.gov.gr)) the Persons of Concern are provided with medical examinations. Before the procedure takes place, the new arrivals are separated from the rest of the population for a short period for the Authorities to secure the prevention of transmission of skin, COVID-19, or other diseases. 

[1] Committee on the Rights of the Child, General Comment No.6 (2005), par. 7 and 8

[2] More info on International protection of unaccompanied minors | European Economic and Social Committee (europa.eu) and Convention on the Rights of the Child | OHCHR

[3] Article 3, Convention on the Rights of the Child | OHCHR