Undocumented children, children in danger. Until when?
The recent case of young Saidou (read about him here), a refugee from Guinea, has starkly illustrated the problem of unaccompanied children who, despite being in the country under the care of the State, lack a long-term legal protection framework in their best interests.
This case has brought to the surface the systemic lack of a protection regime that ensures unhindered access to all children's rights such as housing, education, health, and equal treatment with every other child. The risk of being deprived of their rights increases immediately after they reach adulthood, when the possibility of expulsion from the country looms.
In Saidou's case, after the intense mobilization of the education community and the wider society, a solution was found for his legal residence through the granting of asylum. However, we must bear in mind that other unaccompanied children are – and will be – in a similar legal vacuum, either before or immediately after they reach adulthood. Recently, similar cases have come to light, such as those of young Cissé in Samos, Salman in Athens, Hemin, Doaa and Rahma – brothers from Iraq – in Vyronas, and many others that may not be known.
Considering that this problem makes unaccompanied children vulnerable to violence and exploitation, Civil Society Organizations call for the granting of a special residence permit to unaccompanied children until at least the age of 21.
It is known that since the peak of refugee and migrant flows in 2015 until today, many children have been found in Greece, unaccompanied by their parents or an adult who is legally responsible for their care. The Greek state, in accordance with both national legislation and international conventions, has the obligation and the self-evident duty to ensure the best interests of unaccompanied children, first of all by ensuring their housing, education and access to health care services.
With few exceptions, in Greece the only way to ensure their protection through the necessary condition of issuing legal documents is the granting of asylum, in which the majority of children's applications are rejected either in first or in second instance.
As a result these children, until adulthood, even though they are in Accommodation Facilities for Unaccompanied Minors by decision of the competent Public Prosecutor and the Special Secretariat of the Ministry of Immigration and Asylum, and even though they attend public education – and thus create a certain degree of personal attachment to Greece – end up without the necessary legal documents.
This legal "gap", until very recently, could – albeit rarely – be filled by granting a residence permit for humanitarian reasons. But even in this case, this option was difficult to implement – until it was abolished in 2020, which exacerbated the problem.
The negative effects of this issue are visible not only in the daily lives of children and those who assist them, but also in society as a whole, as the framework for their protection and integration shrinks. The lack of legal documents makes it more difficult for children to access education, health care, employment and daily activities. The exclusion of unaccompanied children within society by the institutional framework itself leads to their marginalization.
We, the representatives of Civil Society Organizations, bearing in mind both the magnitude of the problem and the successful handling of the issue in other EU countries (as Italy has already done since 2017 and Spain since 2021), ask the Greek State to address the problem and establish a special residence permit until the completion of the 21st year of age – along with the right to international protection – for unaccompanied children, as well as for those of them who reach adulthood.
The granting of a special residence permit is necessary to ensure a minimum protection framework for the rights of unaccompanied children, in line both with recent announcements by many institutional actors and the policies set out in the National Strategy for the Protection of Unaccompanied Minors. In any case, these children constitute an important social capital for the country, as they participate in the education process and have developed links with society. The risk of their marginalization and removal due to the lack of legal documents cancels out the above positive actions of the Greek state.
Taking positive action to ensure the best interests of every child is an absolute obligation of the State. The example of Saidu should be the norm, and pave the way for the effective protection not only of all unaccompanied children, but also of those who reach adulthood during their stay in the country.
An online discussion on this specific issue will take place on Tuesday, 12 July 2022 at 3pm, which we invite you to attend.
Civil Society Organizations
Action for Education, ARSIS Association for the Social Support of Youth / Άρσις Κοινωνική Οργάνωση για την Υποστήριξη των Νέων, Better Days Greece, Changemakers Lab, Diotima Centre for Gender Rights and Equality / Διοτίμα Κέντρο για τα Έμφυλα Δικαιώματα και την Ισότητα, Danish Refugee Council / Δανικό Συμβούλιο για τους Πρόσφυγες, Generation 2.0 RED, Glocal Roots, Greek Forum of Migrants / Ελληνικό Φόρουμ Μεταναστών, Greek Council for Refugees / Ελληνικό Συμβούλιο για τους Πρόσφυγες, Greek Forum of Refugees / Ελληνικό Φόρουμ Μεταναστών, ECHο100PLUS, European Lawyers in Lesvos (ELIL), Faros / Φάρος, Fenix Humanitarian Legal Aid, HIAS, HumanRights360, Human Rights Legal Project, International Rescue Committee (IRC) Hellas, Intersos Hellas, Irida Women's Center / Ίριδα Κέντρο Γυναικών, I HAVE RIGHTS, Jesuit Refugee Service Greece, Legal Centre Lesvos, Lighthouse Relief, Mobile Info Team, Northern Lights Aid (NLA), Odyssea, PRAKSIS, Refugee Legal Support, Safe Passage International, Still I Rise, SolidarityNow, Symbiosis - School of Political Studies in Greece, Council of Europe Network / Συμβίωση, Σχολή Πολιτικών Σπουδών στην Ελλάδα, Δίκτυο Συμβουλίου της Ευρωπης, Terre des hommes Hellas, The HOME Project, ΑΝΤΙΓΟΝΗ - Κέντρο Πληροφόρησης και Τεκμηρίωσης για το Ρατσισμό, την Οικολογία, την Ειρήνη και τη Μη Βία / ANTIGONE - Information and Documentation Centre on Racism, Ecology, Peace and Non Violence, Δίκτυο για τα Δικαιώματα του Παιδιού / Network for Children’s Rights, ΕΛΙΞ-Προγράμματα Εθελοντικής Εργασίας, Κάριτας Ελλάς / Caritas Hellas, Κέντρο Ημέρας Βαβέλ, Οικολογική Κίνηση Θεσσαλονίκης / Ecological Movement of Thessaloniki, “Σχεδία” Κέντρο Παιδαγωγικής και Καλλιτεχνικής Επιμόρφωσης / Schedia, Υποστήριξη Προσφύγων στο Αιγαίο(RSA) / Refugee Support Aegean (RSA)