June 20 marks World Refugee Day in support of persons who are forced to flee. A particularly vulnerable group are unaccompanied minors. They are all alone, without close caregivers. For months and even years, their everyday life is filled with uncertainty of what the future might hold. Then it is important to have something meaningful to do and different activities to attend.
Text: Sidsel E. Aas, Head of Communication and Fundraising
In 2019, more than 75,000 refugees arrived in Greece. Among them a great number of unaccompanied minors. At the end of 2019, there were approximately 5,300 registered, and they keep on coming. Right now, the number of unaccompanied minors is around 6,000. Most of them are from Afghanistan, Syria, or Iraq. Countries affected by war, internal conflicts, and serious human rights violations.
Unaccompanied minors that for various reasons have ended up alone, are particularly vulnerable. Some have fled by themselves, while others may have lost close family members or other caregivers along the way. Common to all of them is their memories and traumas from a life where many have both witnessed or even been exposed to violent experiences.
Stuck In a Refugee Camp with An Uncertain Future
Arriving in Greece, the overall plan for unaccompanied minors is that they eventually will have a home in Greece, or in another European country, depending on how many countries in Europe that are willing to accept this group. But first, their asylum applications will be processed in Greece. Because of the large number of refugees who have come to Greece in recent years, this may often take a very long time. Therefore, many of them find themselves stuck in different refugee camps around Greece for months or even years.
In the refugee camps, they live under critical and unworthy conditions. Their future is uncertain, and their basic human rights are violated every single day. In the refugee camps, there are few or no close caregivers. The children do not have access to education or activities that can help make the waiting period a little easier and more meaningful. An uncertain future, difficult living conditions combined with trauma, means that both drug abuse and self-harm are widespread.
One of the worst places to be for unaccompanied minors is the Moria refugee camp on Lesvos. This camp was built for around 3,000 people but are now housing more then 20,000 people. Among these there are 5,000 children, of whom 1,200 are unaccompanied minors between the age of 4 to 17.
A Drop in the Ocean is the only Norwegian organisation working inside Moria camp. We have different activities and conduct psychosocial work for unaccompanied minors, in line with their wishes and needs.
Returning with Activities After Months of Shutdown
A Drop in the Ocean is finally back in Moria camp with our activities for unaccompanied minors. We had to leave the camp for a period due to Covid-19 infection control regulations. For the same reason, the children in Moria have not been able to leave the camp for the past three months. They describe this as a very difficult time especially since they did not have access to any activities during the day.
Our start-up has exceeded all our expectations and the children tells us how incredibly happy they are to finally be able to start creative activities again. Because of the Covid-19 situation, all our activities take place outdoors, but within the enclosed areas where the unaccompanied minors live.
We ensure infection prevention by using face masks on all activities and we have various infection control measures, in accordance with the guidelines of the Greek authorities.
The children themselves have been very helpful in preparing the outdoor areas and clean the areas thoroughly after we are done for the day. It makes us happy to see that the number of children participating in our activities has increased on our return.
Handicrafts are the most popular activity right now. The children help each other make colourful bracelets of macramé, boys and girls are just as focused throughout the activity. In sections where the oldest boys live, activities like juggling, puzzles, painting and ping-pong are very popular.
No child should feel unsafe or alone, but these children have been feeling that for a long time, and it has certainly not been better in the recent months.
A Drop in the Ocean is incredibly happy that we are back together with the children, giving them an opportunity to use their creativity through various activities while contributing to psycho-social support.
We also have activities for unaccompanied minors at other locations. Our experience is that the children go through different phases depending on where they live and how far they have come in the process of getting their asylum application proceeded.
As an organisation, we are committed to develop activities in consultation with those who participate. This also applies to unaccompanied minors, and especially teenagers who often would like to contribute to our work actively. For example, many participate as volunteers at our Drop centres, with distribution of food and clothing, or follow various informal educational activities such as language courses, computer courses, or job search courses.
Contribute to a Meaningful Everyday Life for Single Minors
In Norway, there has recently been a great public attention to the difficult situation of unaccompanied minors and vulnerable children in Greek refugee camps, not least through the “#evakuerbarnaframoriana-campaign”. The question is how other European countries can relieve Greece by accepting children from the Greek refugee camps. So far, several European countries have said they will accept, and some have already accepted, unaccompanied minors. Norway is awaiting the situation. So far, the Government says it may be relevant for Norway to help evacuate children and vulnerable groups from Greek refugee camps, provided that 8-10 EU countries have already done so beforehand.
A Drop on the Ocean will continue to advocate for the evacuation of unaccompanied minors and vulnerable children from the Greek refugee camps. In the meantime, we will continue to provide activities for unaccompanied minors at all our locations, giving them an important respite from a difficult and painful everyday life.
Why not use World Refugee Day 2020 to show that you care?