The situation for refugees in Greece is dire. Violence is common in the overcrowded camps, many are homeless. The most vulnerable are particularly affected by this: there is rampant abuse of migrant children, according to researchers and aid workers.
Violence, prostitution, homelessness: This is the crisis currently facing migrant children in Greece. Harvard University's report "Emergency within an emergency", which was published in April 2017, outlined a situation where migrant children suffer from physical, psychological and sexual violence in Greece's migrant camps and facilities. It focused, in particular, on the many factors contributing to the commercial sexual exploitation of migrant children, and the effects on the victims of this kind of abuse. One of the report's aims was to prompt lawmakers to address this "emergency within an emergency" with better policy decisions. Almost a year later, little has changed.
Risky living conditions
Many migrants are housed in temporary facilities, not suitable for long-term situations. "Due to space and resource shortages, as well as the absence of appropriate planning, migrant camps were created haphazardly in old army camps, car parks, derelict warehouses and factories, or other unused locations outside main cities," the reports states. These living conditions were found to be a significant factor in increasing the dangers to migrant children.
The migrant camp on the island of Samos is one such example. A former military base on the side of a hill, it consists of several levels. It was intended to house 700 people, but it currently accommodates 1,600. Extra beds are provided in tents that spill out of the base. Since the EU-Turkey agreement was implemented, it went from being a transit camp to becoming long-term accommodation.
One of the levels is dedicated to housing unaccompanied minors, but security is a big problem. Anouk, from Samos Volunteers, told InfoMigrants that the unaccompanied minors' accommodation was raided by adult migrants last year. All the windows were broken, and they still haven't been repaired, she said. "It's the level where most fights break out," she said "There has been no extra security to protect these kids."
But a week ago, after a year of lobbying, a Greek police officer was stationed outside the unaccompanied minors' accommodation. "I don't know if it has made a difference yet," Anouk said "At the moment there are 36 unaccompanied minors in the camp. These kids are mostly left to their own devices. There is no supervision."
This confirms the Harvard University report, which states that, "Unaccompanied children are at a heightened risk, as they can be victimized by adults and, for those held in detention facilities, by other unaccompanied children."
The report also describes the background to such violent outbreaks: "The forced cohabitation of hundreds of migrants of different cultural backgrounds, genders, and ages in inhumane conditions while facing an uncertain future and potential deportation has predictably generated anger, frustration, and hostility—sentiments that often spill over into acts of violence."
But there are other factors that can add to dangers in camps, not only for unaccompanied minors. For example, inadequate lighting at night can often mean that women and children do not dare to use the bathrooms. This has been well documented in many facilities in Greece. And this is also the case on Samos. "At night, women and children have to pee in bottles in their tents," Anouk told InfoMigrants.
On Samos, there are currently around 350 children who are there with family members. There is no designated area for these children, which also presents a risk factor. The Harvard report described this as "potentially hazardous and unsupervised commingling of migrant children with the adult migrant population."
"Institutional capacity and resources in Greece are severely limited," Harvard University found. This was confirmed by Samos Volunteers, who described the camp as seriously under-resourced. They told InfoMigrants that there is one doctor for the 1,600 residents, and one psychologist. Without adequate support, unaccompanied minors often decide to opt out of the whole system and attempt onward journeys by themselves.
And for minors who have already been severely traumatized, relocating them to mainland Greece is not necessarily the solution. "A few weeks ago, the IOM moved about 20 Arabic-speaking unaccompanied minors to Thessaloniki, and put them in a hotel," Anouk said. "In situations like this, it happens that boys disappear and no one knows what happened to them."
With no money to fund an onward journey, many of these children, mainly boys, resort to selling their bodies. The Harvard report described a thriving child-sex trade in parks in Athens, for example, where kids are given little more than 15 euros to be used by older men.
According to Harvard University's research, "every migrant child, regardless of his or her origin, faces the risk of becoming a victim of the sex trade. Child victims stay in the camps around Athens or in the shelters. They come to the square or the park for the trade and then they return to the shelter."
"Children arrive in Greece suffering from trauma," Anouk said. "And then a second trauma is inflicted upon them."