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The small victims of the refugee crisis

09 February 2016 / 17:02:59  GRReporter
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Last year, the Greek police requested assistance from the child protect organization "The Smile of the Child" for 16 cases of identified illegal transfer of unaccompanied migrant minors by non-relatives, as reported by the Greek newspaper Kathimerini. The social workers or psychologists of the organization transport the children to hospitals and the Greek national health system takes care of them afterwards. However, there is a probability of many of the children disappearing before being placed at shelters. "One day they just leave the hospital and nobody knows what happens with them after that", a social worker told Kathimerini, who follows the process.

Most often, the unaccompanied migrant minors disappear from the institutions where they have been housed. The eight shelters in Greece are not guarded, since they are not detention centres. Significantly, in 2015, the police station in Attica registered 1,002 cases of unaccompanied children that had escaped the shelters, and only 192 of them were found. The statistics do not represent the actual number of children, as there are many cases when a child escapes from one shelter, being found in another city and placed in another institution from which he or she escapes again. Tracking the movement of children is compounded by the absence of their pictures and the fact that they have submitted false names to the authorities.

At the same time, an increasing number of children are leaving Syria unaccompanied. Some of them to flee the war and others to join their families that have already managed to reach a European country, according to a report by Deutsche Welle.

"Are you the father?" This is one of the most frequently asked questions on the Greek-Macedonian border. To allow the families that are travelling together or the individual refugees to cross the border and continue the long journey to northern and western Europe along the so-called "Balkan route", the border authorities must identify them. Recently, they have established among them an increasing number of unaccompanied children who have either left Syria alone or got lost during the journey.

According to Europol data, about 10,000 unaccompanied children have got lost from the moment they have left their home countries. The non-profit organizations that are operating in the region of Gevgelija on the Greek-Macedonian border indicate that the number of women and children who are arriving there is increasing each passing day. The statistics announced by the Macedonian government show that today's situation is very different from that in the summer of 2015. While 75 per cent of arrivals were men then, now this rate includes women and children who are trying to reach central and northern Europe in any way.

"At first, people wanted to test the system," said Jesper Frovin Jensen from UNICEF. In his words, "Young men first broke the ice." With the situation gradually complicating, women and children have followed their example. Meanwhile, due to the winter period, traffickers have reduced the price for a place in the boats, adds the report. Thus, many people who previously could not afford the "big trip" to Europe are doing it now.

Fears that in the coming months the conditions for refugee families to reunite in the European countries will become more severe are driving more children to follow their relatives in their trips in the cold and stormy waters of the Aegean Sea and then along the inhospitable "Balkan route". "We see mothers with children to try to reach Europe by any means," said Elma Dzankovic of the humanitarian organization Legis, stressing that the German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s policy of "open borders" would end very soon.

According to Dzankovic, currently there are 18,000 unaccompanied minors in Macedonia alone. "We have established that many people pretend that some of these children are theirs, so that they can take the children with them," she told Deutsche Welle, not specifying the source of this information.

This raises concerns that children could become victims of human trafficking. "The volunteers are also lacking qualified social workers and pedagogical professionals who are able to establish whether a child actually is unaccompanied by a relative," said Dzankovic. The problem is compounded by the fact that the stay of refugees in Gevgelija lasts only a few hours. As a result, the situation with the uncertain status of the children is transferring in the countries to which they are travelling. "All these young people only have one thing in mind - how to continue their journey," said Frovin Jensen, adding that if the competent authorities prevent children from continuing their journey in the company of familiar people, the trend to illegality will strengthen.

Tags: SocietyRefugee crisisUnaccompanied migrant minorsAccommodation in sheltersGreek policeGevgelija
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