Call it home
IN 2015, GREECE was at the center of an extreme situation – an enormous number of persons created an “escape corridor” passing through the Greek territory towards the northern European countries and especially Germany – it was known as the “Balkan route”. The politics around it and the media coverage at the time, presented this as a crisis of unique nature both for Greece and Europe.
It was not really the case. Even though the numbers were unprecedented, the situation had many familiar characteristics. From a historical point of view, it was, as with every migration movement in Greece, a Greek crisis of management and policy within a greater European crisis of policy and values.
Now, three years later, we have the return of the policies of deterrence with its main representation, the 2016 E.U.-Turkey statement – setting a policy of passage blocking and returns. Together with the lack of longterm viable policies from the E.U. and the Greek government, we have a continuous humanitarian crisis, rise in xenophobia and racist crimes, and a sharp increase of persons detained or in horrible living conditions in the three main islands of reception: Chios, Samos, and Lesvos as well as smaller islands like Leros and Kos. There is no apparent reasoning behind the forced congestions and suffering of these persons on the move.
Children and other vulnerable groups are the main victims of this tragic situation. Many children have died either during the sea journey of hope towards Greece or in Greek territory and under horrible circumstances. There has been no responsibility or any criminal charges by the Greek authorities for their loss. As if nobody is to blame when children die in the care of the Greek state.
In Greece, a member of the E.U., during the fall of 2018 we have 3,600 registered unaccompanied refugee children of which only 1,191 are placed in a basic protection scheme, with the rest still on a waiting list, i.e. detention or homeless. Three years and 1.6 billion euros in E.U. funding later, Greece is incapable or unwilling or both when it comes to protecting unaccompanied children. Foreseeing this and other failures, we filed in March of 2017 a petition to the European Parliament describing the reception and protection conditions and requesting the immediate investigation of how the funding is being spent. More than 18 months later, in October of 2018, the European Anti Fraud Office (OLAF) is asked to investigate the matter and we hope soon there will be a published report with its findings.
We, at HumanRights360, believe that the level of protection of children in a society is an indicator of its democracy and culture. That is why we continue to advocate and struggle to empower and expand the mechanisms of protection for the promotion and safeguarding of human rights. We believe the priority should be humane and speedy integration. The recent legislation in Greece on the guardianship process for children is a positive step forward but, as often is the case in Greece, it remains to be seen how and when the implementation begins. Other challenges are
also pressing like the regular access to the asylum system, education opportunities for 20,000 refugee children, mental health and other such issues.
We are aware that the word integration is not an abstract term. Integration means the fundamental access to goods and services like accommodation, education, health, and labor as well as the general freedom to exercise human rights. It is the obligation of the state to work towards an open liberal society for all – with a particular emphasis on vulnerable groups and, especially, children. Rights are not a luxury; they formulate a condition to maintain the social cohesion which is currently under enormous pressure –especially on the eastern Aegean islands– due to the current policies implemented.
Together with photojournalist Orestis Seferoglou and our team, we aim with this publication to present this situation on the main islands of reception, stressing the unjust and unjustified lack of integration policies and the absence of any contact between the local and refugee children. We trust this publication depicts these two parallel worlds and hope at some point they meet and are joined into one.
Current E.U. policies consist of externalization of borders to third countries, with significant payments to these countries, increased militarization, and lack of respect for dignity and human rights. All these come under the failed presumption that the inhuman conditions and significant death tolls would deter migrants / refugees, i.e. asylum seekers from making the journey. The constant and systematic disregard of basic human rights results in death, detention and exposes to violence and risks thousands of children in Greece and other places. Until when?
Download the photobook here: https://www.humanrights360.org/wp-content/uploads/hr360_photobook_FINAL.pdf