EU member states must urgently relocate separated children from Greece, say 65 NGOs

Published: 4th March 2020

European Union member states should urgently relocate unaccompanied children from the Greek islands to safety in their territory, 65 human rights, humanitarian and civil society organizations said in a statement today. The groups warned of widespread violations of children’s rights and threats to their health and safety across the Aegean islands’ refugee camps. Action is all the more urgent in light of the escalating violence on Lesbos and as increased arrivals to the islands could lead to further deterioration of the appalling conditions in the camps.

“The EU ‘hotspots’ on the Aegean islands are entirely unsuitable and in some cases life-threatening places for unaccompanied children,” said Stephanie Pope, EU policy and advocacy manager at Refugee Rights Europe. “Each EU state only needs to accept a small number of unaccompanied children to end the intolerable situation these children are in. We believe the EU can do better.”

“Children and other vulnerable people are being abandoned in refugee camps where most people never feel safe and many suffer from incredible trauma. This is inhumane and, frankly, unacceptable.”

Marissa Ryan.
Deputy Director for Advocacy, Oxfam International

Over 1,800 unaccompanied children are struggling to survive on the Greek islands, the groups said. Children are deprived of their fundamental rights, such as access to shelter, water, food, medical, and psychosocial – mental health – care, as well as education. They are exposed to inhuman and degrading living conditions. Many children cannot secure a place in specialized accommodation for unaccompanied children because of lack of space, and are forced to face unsanitary and dangerous conditions, with many sleeping outdoors.

“The new tensions at the Greek-Turkish border highlight how the 2016 EU-Turkey deal on migration turned human beings in desperate need of safety and dignity into political bargaining chips,” said Oxfam International’s Deputy Director for Advocacy, Marissa Ryan. “Children and other vulnerable people are being abandoned in refugee camps where most people never feel safe and many suffer from incredible trauma. This is inhumane and, frankly, unacceptable.”

“Unaccompanied migrant children are some of the most vulnerable people in the world,” said Eva Cossé, Greece researcher at Human Rights Watch. “Yet lone children on the Greek islands are being deprived of the most basic necessities of life and living in inhuman conditions.”

“Unaccompanied children stuck on the Greek islands must be urgently assisted. Exposed to multiple dangers, many are forced to sleep out in the open, without essential support to alleviate their suffering or uphold their rights. All the children must be protected. Those with family in other parts of Europe must be reunited with them. This can happen through existing reunification channels or new bilateral agreements between Member States and Greece,” added Dimitra Kalogeropoulou, Head of Office, IRC Greece.

Psychologists working with unaccompanied children on Lesbos have told the media that an increasing number of children are harming themselves and attempting suicide. Unaccompanied children interviewed by one of the groups reported anxiety, depression, recurrent headaches, and insomnia.

Delays in the registration process, and the lack of representation and legal support for unaccompanied children in the hotspots, undermine their ability to reunite with family members in other EU countries. A three-month deadline for the submission of a family reunification request is often unmet because unaccompanied children are not identified during that period.

EU countries should share responsibility and relocate unaccompanied children out of Greece while ensuring that their best interests are taken into account and facilitate family reunification. Relocating unaccompanied children would contribute to securing durable solutions for them.

EU countries should take into account the humanitarian emergency on the Greek islands when it comes to deadlines for submitting family reunification requests, the groups said. For children who missed the deadline, they should make use of the “discretionary clause” of the Dublin III Regulation, that determines which EU Member State is responsible for the examination of an application for asylum.

“It is a disgrace to humanity and a stain on the conscience of Europe that vulnerable children are left sleeping rough in a living hell,” said Josie Naughton, CEO of Help Refugees. “This is absolutely within our power to change. We must find it in our hearts to act now.”

Notes to editors

  • Read the full statement. See the list of signatories below.
  • The situation on the islands has grown more acute due to a spike in arrivals since July 2019, leading to extreme overcrowding in the hotspots. The situation is compounded by the Greek authorities’ containment policy to carry out the EU-Turkey deal, intended to return unsuccessful asylum seekers to Turkey. This has led to perpetual overcrowding on the islands.
  • On November 24, Greece’s prime minister announced a plan, No Child Alone, to protect unaccompanied children, including by creating more shelters. In keeping with the plan’s spirit, Greek authorities should urgently ensure that children have access to safe, humane accommodation where they can receive care, education, counseling, legal aid, guardianship, and other essential services, the groups said.
  • In October, Greece’s citizen protection minister, Michalis Chrisochoidis, sent a letter to all other European Union governments asking them to share responsibility by voluntarily relocating a total of 2,500 unaccompanied children from Greece. On November 6, he told the European Parliament’s Committee on Civil Liberties that only one country had responded.


Signatories of the joint statement:

  1. 100Million
  2. ADP Amici dei Popoli
  3. Better Days
  4. Boat Refugee Foundation
  5. Caritas Europa
  6. Child Circle
  7. Concord Italia
  8. COP Piemonte
  9. COSPE Onlus
  10. CVCS
  11. Danish Refugee Council (DRC)
  12. Defence for Children International Greece
  13. Defence for Children International Italia
  14. Defence for Children International
  15. Defence for Children the Netherlands
  16. Défense des Enfants International – Belgique | Defence for Children International – Belgium
  17. Destination Unknown
  18. Diaconia ECCB – Center of Relief and Development
  19. Dynamo International – Street Workers Network
  20. Eurochild
  21. FENIX Humanitarian Legal Aid
  22. FOCSIV (partner of the project Faces of Migration)
  23. Global Call to Action Against Poverty (GCAP) Europe
  24. Greek Council for Refugees (GCR)
  25. Help Refugees
  26. HIAS Greece
  27. Human Rights Watch
  28. Immigrant Council of Ireland
  29. International Catholic Migration Commission (ICMC) Europe
  30. International Rescue Committee
  31. Khora Legal
  32. Kopin
  33. Legal Centre Lesvos
  34. Lesvos Solidarity
  35. Lighthouse Relief (LHR)
  36. MAIS
  37. Médecins Sans Frontières
  38. METAdrasi
  39. Missing Children Europe
  40. Mobile Info Team
  41. Moviment Graffitti
  42. Network for Children's Rights (Greece)
  43. Office of the Dean, Faculty for Education University of Malta
  44. One Happy Family
  45. Organising Bureau of European School Student Unions (OBESSU)
  46. Organization Mondiale pour l'Éducation Préscolaire/ World Organization for Early Childhood Education
  47. Oxfam
  48. PAX
  49. RE.TE Ong - Associazione di tecnici per la solidarietà e la cooperazione internazionale
  50. Refugee Legal Support (UK)
  51. Refugee Rescue
  52. Refugee Rights Europe
  53. Safe Passage International
  54. Save the Children
  55. SB OverSeas
  56. Solidarity Now
  57. Spark 15
  58. Stichting Vluchteling
  59. Still I Rise
  60. Studenti Ħarsien Soċjali
  61. Tampep Onlus
  62. Terre des Hommes Greece
  63. Terre des Hommes International Federation
  64. Velos Youth
  65. WeWorld Onlus

Contact information

In Brussels, for Oxfam International, Florian Oel (English, German): +32 2 234 11 15; mobile +32 473 56 22 60; or Twitter: @florianoel or @OxfamEU

In Berlin, for Refugee Rights Europe, Stephanie Pope (English, German): +49 176 3255 9260; or Twitter: @Refugee_RE

In Athens, for Human Rights Watch, Eva Cossé (Greek, French, English): +30-693-47-90-865; or +1-718-406-3160 (mobile); or Twitter: @Eva_Cosse

In Athens, for the Greek Council for Refugees (GCR), Danae Leivada (Greek, English, French):  +30 210 3800990 [ext.102]; or

In Athens, for Solidarity Now, Lefteris Papagiannakis (Greek, French, English): +30 6974 399 999 (mobile); or

In Athens, for International Rescue Committee (IRC), Dimitra Kalogeropoulou, (Greek, English). For interviews with Dimitra or IRC spokespeople on Lesvos island, contact Nancy Dent, M: +44 (0)7946139182; or E:

For updates, please follow @Oxfam or @OxfamEU.