22nd Oct 2016

Greece kept child refugees in 'abusive' conditions

  • Minors in Greece are being held in deplorable conditions, says rights watchdog. (Photo: International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent)

Minors seeking asylum in Greece are being kept in prison-like conditions for weeks and months, according to a human rights watchdog.

A report from the US-based NGO Human Rights Watch found that unaccompanied children in hope of international protection face routine, arbitrary detention.

"Children face unsanitary and degrading conditions and abusive treatment, including detention with adults and ill-treatment by police," notes the 27-page report out Friday (9 September).

The report is based on interviews with 42 male minors aged between 14 and 17 from places such as Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq and Syria.

Police allegedly assaulted four of them. Others have been unable to access legal aid, counselling or interpretation.

“We’re talking about kids who are all alone and who fled their countries, often to escape violence," said the author's report Rebecca Riddell in a statement.

Children under Greek law are not allowed to be detained for more than 25 days while awaiting transfer to a shelter. In some cases they can be kept for a maximum of 45 days.

But the researchers documented cases where five had been kept under lock and key for three months or more at the Paranesti pre-removal detention center in northeast Greece.

The past seven months have seen a steady rise of unaccompanied children arriving in Greece. Around 3,300 have been registered, up from around 1,150 in mid-March.

The shortage of shelter space in Greece has forced some to live "in overcrowded, filthy, bug-and vermin-infested cells, sometimes without mattresses", the report said.

The conditions are aggravated by other member states who have refused to relocate asylum seekers from Greece despite pledges made last September to host over 66,400.

Only 49 unaccompanied minors have been relocated under the scheme from Greece.

A Greek government spokesperson, Giorgos Kyritsis, told the Associated Press that plans are under way to build new shelters. He noted that putting them in police stations was "not ideal".

Afghan minors

Most unaccompanied minors come from Afghanistan with many fleeing poverty and persecution from the Taliban and other militia groups like the Hizb-i Islami Afghanistan and the Islamic State group.

Abdul Ghafoor, a refugee rights activist who was deported from Norway in 2013, told this website from Kabul that those leaving to reach the EU are getting younger.

"Young Afghans don't see any future in Afghanistan and most are stuck in Kabul because they can't travel to the provinces," he said.

Around 200,000 Afghans applied for asylum in the EU last year. Ghafoor said those deported back to the war-torn country are making second attempts given the dire conditions.

Germany is sending some Afghans back to Kabul, but those sent back are often unable to find a livelihood in the capital city.

The Taliban are also mounting more and more attacks. Earlier this week, a Taliban truck bomb detonated in the front gates of Care International, a charity.

Suicide bombers had also, prior to the truck explosion, set off blasts near the Afghan defence ministry on Monday killing dozens and wounding around 100 people.

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