Sixty-five humanitarian organizations have signed a document calling on the European Union to transfer unaccompanied minors off of the Greek islands and into safety in their territory.
European Union member states should urgently relocate unaccompanied children from the Greek islands to safety in their territory, ensuring at the same time that the minors' interests are sufficiently protected, said 65 human rights, humanitarian and civil society organizations in a statement Wednesday.
The groups warned of serious and widespread violations of human rights and threats to children's health and safety at migrant hotspots in the Aegean islands.
'Hotspots in the Aegean are unsuitable and dangerous'
"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," she said.
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 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.
"Unaccompanied migrant children are some of the most vulnerable people in the world," said Eva Cossé, Greece researcher at Human Rights Watch (HRW). "Yet lone children on the Greek islands are being deprived of the most basic necessities of life and living in inhuman conditions," she said.
'All children must be protected'
"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.
The statement said 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.