Greece ends police custody for unaccompanied migrant minors

Practice of holding young refugees and migrants abandoned

20 November, 17:27

    (ANSAmed) - ATHENS, 19 NOV - Greece has finally moved to abandon the unpopular practice of holding unaccompanied migrant minors who arrive in the country without parents or guardians in protective police custody.

    According to Greek Migration and Asylum Minister Notis Mitarakis, who gave a news conference to present the country's migration strategy over the next two years, "as of Nov. 14, no unaccompanied asylum-seeker teenagers and children have been held in police custody".

    He added that the government will move with legislative changes to stop the practice, which was started in 2001.

    The announcement marks a rare positive piece of news on the migrant issue in Greece, for which the current government has come under heavy criticism for its decisions since it came to power in July 2019.

    The unpopular practice, which had received widespread disdain from within Greece and from international observers and NGOs and has also led to judgments against Greece by the European Court of Human Rights, saw newly-arrived unaccompanied minors held in police stations across the country, sometimes for several months at a time.

    Children were also often placed in custody with unrelated adults due to a lack of space of facilities at the police stations. The measure was supposed to be a temporary one, but in the end lasted almost 20 years.

    According to an announcement by the Ministry of Immigration and Asylum, from November 4 to November 14, the Special Secretariat for the Protection of Unaccompanied Minors in cooperation with national and international organizations transferred 170 detained unaccompanied minors to long-term or temporary accommodation structures.

    The number was already down from 331 unaccompanied minors on March 31, a number that had risen sharply since the summer of 2019 and skyrocketed in the fall of 2020.

    From now on, until the full implementation of the new mechanism for locating and referring unaccompanied minors developed by the Special Secretariat together with the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) and provides for the cooperation of the Greek Police, juvenile prosecutors and the Special Secretariat, minors will remain in a state of protected custody only for 4-5 days, until their identification is completed.

    According to the Ministry of Immigration, the positive development was made possible thanks to the "significant increase in places in long-term accommodation structures and the relocation program" of unaccompanied minors to other European countries.

    "Since 2001, our country has been reviewed by both the European Court of Human Rights and the Council of Europe for violating the rights of unaccompanied minors, as we were unable to house these children, thus keeping them in police custody.

    The Greek government is now putting an end to this practice at the legislative and operational level, ensuring respect for human rights and the best interests of unaccompanied minors," special secretary Irini Agapidaki told reporters.

    One example of Greece finding itself in trouble with teh European authorities came In early 2019, when the European Court of Human Rights ruled in favor of nine minors from Syria, Iraq and Morocco who had arrived in Greece in 2016 and ended up spending weeks in police custody before being placed in shelters. They were aged between 14 and 17 at the time.

    In related developments, refugees and migrants in Greece are set to be moved from older 'open-type' reception center facilities into new closed centers, while the maximum stay for people staying at camps on the over-crowded islands will be cut.

    According to new plans unveiled by the New Democracy government, new reception centres for asylum seekers will be built within 2021 and the state will cut the maximum stay in camps on its now-overcrowded islands in the North East Aegean which include Lesvos, Chios and Samos.

    While the flow of refugees attempting to enter Europe through Greece has slowed since the peak of 2015 and 2016, around 90,000 migrants in total remain in Greece, of which approximately 19,000 live in often squalid conditions in temporary camps, many including families with small children for months or even years.

    Authorities have said that building these better-equipped, 'closed' camps on the islands of Lesvos, Samos, Chios, Leros and Kos by the autumn of 2021. The aim is that no asylum seekers would stay at any of these facilities for over six months.

    "Twelve months from now we should not see any of the legacy reception systems that we have today," Mitarakis told reporters in a news conference.

    In September, a series of fires saw Greece's largest such open migrant camp at Moria on Lesvos completely destroyed, leaving around 12,000 people stranded. While the most vulnerable groups were transferred to alternative lodgings on the mainland or abroad in other EU countries, the majority of them were moved to a temporary tent camp which has already been flooded twice in autumn rains.

    Greece's conservative New Democracy government has opted to take a perceived tougher stance on migration than its left-wing predecessors SYRIZA, and has drawn criticism from human rights groups, NGO's and media observers alike. (ANSAmed). (ANSA).

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