Concerns for hundreds of unaccompanied children sleeping rough in Greece this winter

Published: 13th December 2017

More than 2,000 unaccompanied children are on the waiting list for safe shelters in Greece, according to a new report by Oxfam and 11 other organizations. The chronic shortage of accommodation for children is just one of the gaps in services that is worsening as the Greek Government prepares to take full control of the refugee response.

The report provides an overview of the current situation on the islands as well as on the mainland. It sets out a series of recommendations for the Greek Government, EU leaders and the UN for a successful handover to address the persistent gaps in services, access to asylum and opportunities to integrate with Greek society.

While some steps have been taken to move people to the mainland, the islands remain dangerously overcrowded with many families sharing unheated tents as winter sets in. A dangerous shortage of medical and legal staff risks people’s health and has contributed to long delays in the asylum procedure. On the mainland, unaccompanied children are increasingly spending nights in police cells, in squats or on the streets because of a shortage of safe shelters.

To improve the situation, the report says a mechanism is needed to move people to accommodation on the mainland as soon as reception centres reach their capacity. It also calls for all EU states to recognise their legal and moral obligation to consider asylum claims and to relocate the most vulnerable people to other countries in Europe.

It recommends that NGOs and the Greek Government invest in more programs that build tolerance and integration, and in Greek communities that have borne the brunt of the sudden influx. It also calls on UNCHR – the UN refugee agency - to be more vocal and take a stand against the policies and practices being implemented in Greece that reduce standards and minimize safeguards in the reception, asylum and returns procedures.

Nicola Bay, Head of Mission for Oxfam in Greece, said: “It’s time for the Greek Government to step up and take control of the situation. It should seize this opportunity to learn the lessons of the past two years and to move people from overcrowded and unsafe shelters. Sadly, the misery we are witnessing on the islands will only deepen when winter sets in.”

Jana Frey, Country Director for the International Rescue Committee, said: "Of paramount concern is the safety and wellbeing of the over 3,000 children who are without their family and on their own in Greece. Only about 1,000 are staying in shelters set up to accommodate them. The rest are on a waiting list, with potentially hundreds of children sleeping on the streets or in squats. These children are at grave risk."

Antigone Lyberaki, Managing Director for SolidarityNow, said: ''The Greek Government has the required resources to receive refugees in a safe and dignified manner and support their inclusion into the society. What is needed now is full political will to resolve existing problems that make thousands of people suffer and also to create a response system that will benefit both refugees and the hosting community.”

Aleksandra Godziejewska, Head of Mission of CARE in Greece, said: “Despite being in one country, as a direct result of the EU-Turkey statement, the living conditions and protection safeguards of asylum seekers on the Greek islands and the mainland are substantially different. We look forward to the results of the efforts to decongest the islands, and call the Greek government to implement strategies to counter the exclusion and marginalization that all refugees, men, boys, women and girls, can face during the upcoming process of integration.”

Notes to editors

1. Oxfam spokespeople are available for interview in Lesbos, Athens and London.

2. Transitioning to a government-run refugee and migrant response in Greece: A joint NGO roadmap for more fair and humane policies, was jointly written with input from the following organizations: ActionAid, CARE, Caritas Greece, Danish Refugee Council (DRC), Greek Helsinki Monitor, HIAS, International Rescue Committee (IRC), JRS, Oxfam, SolidarityNow, Spanish Commission for Refugees (CEAR) and Terre des hommes. Download a copy of the report here.

3. More than 2,100 unaccompanied children are already on the waiting list for safe shelter on the Greek islands, with at least 100 more arriving each month. As of 1 August 2017, the Greek Government took over financing of the existing shelters for these children. At least four of them are facing funding difficulties and may close without immediate action, forcing even more children into police cells, unsafe accommodation or onto the streets.

4. At the end of July 2017, the Greek Government took over control of the management and funding of the response on the Greek islands from ECHO, the European Commission’s humanitarian division. Some humanitarian agencies have downsized or pulled out of the islands altogether, leading to gaps in vital services such as medical care. 

Contact information

Kai Tabacek | | +44 7584 265 077

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