In a report released on Thursday, Human Rights Watch said that unaccompanied migrant children in Greece are living under deplorable conditions while being kept for prolonged detention periods that is in direct violation of international and Greek law.
The 27-page report titled “‘Why Are You Keeping Me Here?’: Unaccompanied Children Detained in Greece,” was composed by Human Rights Watch following interviews of 42 children who were both previously or currently detained in migrant camps in Greece as well as many visits to two different police stations and detention centers on the mainland of Greece.
“Children are being detained for weeks and months, and are being made to live in filthy, bug-and-vermin-infested cells, sometimes without mattresses or access to showers,” said Rebecca Riddell, who authored the report for Human Rights Watch.
“The conditions are really shocking and often worse in police stations than detention centers,” she said.
There were over 3,300 unaccompanied migrant children who arrived in Greece in the first seven months of 2016, and with migrant centers already overcrowded, the children are detained by the police in so-called “protective custody” which is permitted by Greek law to be a period of up to 25 days while pending transfer to a camp.
The report by Humans Rights Watch found that the children were detained for well beyond 25 days, with an average stay of 40 days under horrible conditions.
Quotes from the report are disturbing as the children tell their stories in their own words:
Javed S., A 16-year-old boy from Afghanistan who was in police protective custody for 52 days said, “The situation is very bad…I feel alone here, far from my family, from my friends…I need to get out of this hell.”
While a 17-year-old boy, Nawaz S. said he was detained with unrelated adults: “I could not feel safe, because the other people (in the cell) were doing drugs…When they were fighting, of course I was scared and I couldn’t sleep.”
Another account details fear and helplessness: “We were just joking around in the cell. The police pulled me out, put me in a chair, and handcuffed my hands behind my back. He has all the power. He could do anything to me. All of us, we’re each alone here. We don’t have anyone,” Adi S., a 17-year-old boy from Pakistan who was interviewed at the Amygdaleza detention center said to Human Rights Watch.
The sub-par living conditions the unaccompanied migrant children are forced to live in as reported by Human Rights Watch goes against international and Greek law as there are accounts of alleged physical and mental abuse, being deprived of basic hygiene and having minors residing with unrelated adults.
During the first half of 2016 Greek police report that they detained 161 unaccompanied children in protective custody.
Rebecca Riddell concluded, “Greece says it has to detain children for their own protection, but being locked up in cramped and filthy cells is the last thing these kids need…We’re talking about kids who are all alone and who fled their countries, often to escape violence. Greece and the EU should do a better job giving these vulnerable children the care they need and deserve.”