The Rights of Children and Unaccompanied Minors in Refugee Camps

The refugee crisis still persists in Greece, more than four years after its peak in 2015. A Drop in the Ocean was established because of this crisis, and we work continuously to help the refugees in Greece. This text will link refugee rights, with an emphasis on children’s rights, to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), as today is the United Nations Day. We want to use this day to highlight the rights of children and unaccompanied minors, as well as refugees in general, as the refugee crisis has cropped up quite heavily this early autumn. Our work with children and unaccompanied minors in the locations we operate will be highlighted in this article.

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The Current Situation in Greece

Greece, which used to be a transit country, has now become temporary residence for tens of thousands of refugees. Border controls out of Greece are stricter than ever before. Meanwhile, the influx of refugees by boat from Turkey continues, leading to an increased accumulation of refugees in both official and unofficial camps. They live under miserable and undignified conditions for an uncertain amount of time. There is a great need for aid, and our work in and around the refugee camps has never been more important.

The Rights of Children

Almost 40 % of all refugees arriving in Greece are children. Refugee children are children first and foremost children, and they need special attention. As refugees, they are particularly at risk with the uncertainty and unprecedented upheavals which are increasingly marking the post-Cold War era. In order to improve and enhance the protection and care of refugee children, UNHCR has adopted a Policy on Refugee Children, endorsed by the UNHCR Executive Committee in October 1993. At the core of the UNHCR Guidelines on Refugee Children lies the realisation of the need which children have for special care and assistance.

Skaramagas, Athen. Photo: A Drop in the Ocean

Children are vulnerable. They are susceptible to disease, malnutrition and physical injury.

“Children are dependent. They need the support of adults, not only for physical survival, particularly in the early years of childhood, but also for their psychological and social well-being.

Children are developing. They grow in developmental sequences, like a tower of bricks, each layer depending on the one below it. Serious delays interrupting these sequences can severely disrupt development1” – Sadako Ogato, former United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees”.

Children have the right to security, education, and well-being. To provide children and unaccompanied minors with a sense of security, and try to bring a bit of normality to their lives is something we in A Drop in the Ocean try to do every single day. This next part will discuss our work with children in the locations we work at, and how the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are linked to human rights.

Sustainable Development Goals and Our Work with Children and Unaccompanied Minors in Greece

The United Nations (UN) Declaration on the Right to Development 1986 proclaimed that development is a right that belongs to everyone, which resulted in the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), that today has evolved into the SDGs. The SDGs are linked to international human rights standards2, and we argue that refugee rights are human rights. Refugee rights can be linked to the refugees’ living conditions in refugee camps, which can be linked to SDG 3: good health and well-being, SDG 4: quality education, and SDG 6: clean water and sanitation. We work in and around refugee camps in Skaramagas, Elefsina, Samos, Nea Kavala, and Lesvos, where we every day strive to better the health and well-being of the refugees by providing meaningful activities and informal education.

Sustainable Development Goal Number Four; Education

In one of the largest refugee camps in mainland Greece, Skaramagas, we have a room for children to do various activities. This is a room where kids can play, draw, and do arts and crafts. A play area where kids are allowed just to be kids for a while and get a short break from their daily reality of life in a refugee camp. Every week we do a special activity day that involves team challenges, football tournaments and treasure hunts. In the afternoons, we run, play football and host movie nights for the kids.

Children activities, Skaramagas, Athen. Photo: A Drop in the Ocean

On Lesvos we work with unaccomapanied minors inside Moria Refugee camp, in Section A and B where we organise activities for male minors in the evening hours from 20-22. Since August 2019 we have also organised activities for unaccompanied children, girls below the age of 18 and boys below the age of 12, in the Safe Zone in Moria Camp. Activities include board games, painting workshops, yoga for children, learning fun and craft, exercise activities, upcycling, planting and ball games.

On Samos we also have activities for kids like arts and crafts and yoga for children in our Stagona Centre, established to provide people with a safe, calm, and trusting environment to experience distractions from the daily camp reality. In our Drop Centre we offer non-formal education (NFE) to children of Moria Camp aged 6 – 8. The aim of the programme is to prepare children for formal education with a course duration of 3 months, teaching them English, mathematics, art, and singing, in addition to other components of NFE and familiarise them with a classroom environment. The need for schooling for the children of Moria Camp is extremely high, due to the limited formal education providers, which means that many children stay for months without attending any type of school.

Activities in Samos. Photo: Carolin Jarmusch, Project and Volunteer Coordinator, Samos

Our main aim with providing informal language training is to empower the refugees by giving them resources to promote self-reliance in their own lives, and prepare them for the life after camp. The informal education program also contributes to the Sustainable Development Goal number 4 on education; promoting empowerment and continuous learning. A lot of the residents spend many years in camp, some are waiting for their asylum interview in 2023, and by providing them with meaningful activities and engage them to take active parts of their lives, we also contribute to their psychical and mental health.

Filippo Grandi, UN High Commissioner for Refugees also emphasises the importance of education in crisis. In the Introduction to UNHCRs Report: ”Stepping up – Refugee education in crisis” he writes: ”For most of us, education is how we feed curious minds and discover our life’s passions. It is also how we learn to look after ourselves – how to navigate the world of work, to organize our households, to deal with everyday chores and challenges. For refugees, it is all that and more. It is the surest road to recovering a sense of purpose and dignity after the trauma of displacement. It is – or should be – the route to labour markets and economic self-sufficiency, spelling an end to months or sometimes years of depending on others.”

The Crisis Must Not be Forgotten Once Again

The current situation in Europe is uncertain for refugees in Greece, and the political turmoil that has emerged does not help. By highlighting the rights of refugees, especially child refugees, we hope to shed light that the situation is far from over, the crisis must not be forgotten once again, and Europe must come together to resolve the issue, rather than waive liability. Someone must step up and take responsibility, and we will work restlessly to create a better life for refugees.