Thousands of unaccompanied child refugees in Greece have been left without adequate shelter or care as authorities struggle to cope with a recent worsening of the crisis.
Greece currently only has suitable shelter available for one third of the 3,000 unaccompanied child refugees in the country. The remaining children are homeless and living in temporary settlements, makeshift shelters or their whereabouts are unknown.
The humanitarian situation is expected to worsen as the number of children seeking sanctuary in Greece continues to rise. In the first four months of this year more than 8,300 refugees arrived in the country by sea and 5,500 crossed the land border with Turkey – almost as many as sought refuge during the whole of 2017.
The crisis is particularly severe on Lesvos island - the main destination point for refugees who cross the Mediterranean towards Greece. An estimated 7,300 people are living in the Moria refugee centre on the island which was built to accommodate only 3,000.
Overcrowding has forced children to live in tents on hillsides outside the camp compound, without electricity and with only limited sanitary facilities. Children have to bathe in buckets and have no access to schooling or educational activities.
National Director of SOS Children’s Villages Greece George Protopapas said: “Addressing the basic needs of people arriving in Greece, and receiving them with dignity, is not an impossible endeavour in a European country that has experienced migration for years, but it does require all actors involved to meet their responsibilities.
“We are calling on the Greek and European authorities to urgently prioritise the provision of care, protection and shelter for children and families. If we are to avoid a humanitarian catastrophe in northern Greece we need to learn from the mistakes of the past and take action now. No-one wants to relive the difficult days of 2015.”
An increasing number of child refugees are travelling the dangerous migrant routes towards Europe alone, having lost or been separated from their parents in the chaos of warfare and disaster. Last year, almost two thirds of the child refugees who sought sanctuary in Europe were unaccompanied – a 31% increase since 2016.
Without the care and protection of an adult children are at extreme risk of abuse, trafficking and exploitation. 10,000 refugee children are estimated to go missing in Europe each year.
SOS Children’s Villages has been working to support unaccompanied child refugees in Greece since the current crisis began in 2015. Since then they have provided temporary homes and care to more than 250 unsupported children.
Their child-friendly space at the Kara Tepe refugee reception centre provides more than 100 children each day with educational and recreational activities, Greek and English language lessons, and a safe place where they can play with other children and begin to recover from their ordeals.
The charity also provides child refugees with food, emergency supplies, social inclusion and integration support and legal assistance to help reunite them with their family members abroad.
You can find out more information about SOS Children’s Villages work responding to the child refugee crisis here.
Notes to editors:
For media enquiries please contact Lucy Prioli at Lucy.Prioli@sosuk.org or on 01223 222 974.