Growing number of unaccompanied refugee and migrant children in Greece in urgent need of shelter, care and protection


Growing number of unaccompanied refugee and migrant children in Greece in urgent need of shelter, care and protection

© UNICEF/UN057954/Gilbertson VII Photo

Mariem, 8, a refugee from the Syrian Arab Republic, in her family’s shelter in Pikpa Village, an open refugee camp run by volunteers outside of Mytilini, Lesvos, Greece, Tuesday 14 March 2017.

ATHENS/ GENEVA/ HONG KONG, 27 October 2017 – Only a third of the nearly 3,000 unaccompanied refugee and migrant children currently in Greece are receiving proper shelter and care, UNICEF warned today. The children’s agency is urging key policy and legal reforms to help keep vulnerable children safe.

The recent surge in the refugee and migrant arrivals has led to further overcrowding and deteriorating living conditions in island camps. In September this year there were more than 5,700 arrivals in Greece compared to an estimated 3,080 arrivals in September 2016.

On the islands, some reception facilities for unaccompanied children are now hosting twice as many as they were designed for, compromising the safety and wellbeing of the children. They are particularly vulnerable at night without proper safeguards in place. Long delays of up to five months in transferring children from the islands to the mainland are compounding their emotional and mental strain.

There are now some 1,800* unaccompanied children waiting for a place in shelter, living in open sites, reception centres, or who are otherwise stranded on the islands or in de facto detention centres. Some of these children are even living on the streets, and the approaching winter is adding to the risk.

“Children stranded without families should have proper shelter, care and protection, and there are solutions that could make this a reality for them,” said Laurent Chapuis, Country Coordinator for UNICEF’s refugee and migrant response in Greece. “Unaccompanied children stuck on the islands should be transferred to shelters on the mainland without delay; existing shelters with the right standards should receive available funding and there needs to be more foster care or supervised living schemes. This can all be done.”

UNICEF is also calling for urgent policy and legal reforms to strengthen community-based care after years of economic hardship in Greece. For those children who have family elsewhere in Europe, UNICEF is urging other European countries to step up family reunification.

“The Greek authorities and their partners on the frontline of the European refugee and migrant crisis since 2015, have made tremendous efforts in responding to the needs of children and families,” said Chapuis, adding that conditions in reception centres on the mainland have improved and transfers from the islands have recently accelerated.

The numbers of unaccompanied children in Greece increased through the summer – from 2,300 at the end of June to 2,850 at the end of September. There are an estimated 19,000 refugee and migrant children in Greece today with unaccompanied children accounting for roughly 15 per cent of the total number of child arrivals.