A small history …

In the beginning of the year 2008 the small number of reception centers for unaccompanied minors (UMs) in Greece offering with only approx. 250 places in total were insufficient to cover the needs of the succesively increasing numbers of arriving underage refugges. Thus, most UMs after being released from detention were left on their own. They had only a deportation order in their hands valid for 30 days and requesting them to leave the country by their own means within the given period of time. They remained unprotected, homeless and thus highly vulnerable living on the streets, in the shanty town of Patras, in the barracks of exploitative agriculturalists or together with mainly adult co-nationals in overcrowded scrubby flats in Athens – so called immigrant hotels. These children and teenagers were and continue to be highly exposed to all kinds of violence, exploitation and maltreatment.

Reacting to the pressure of the reception and protection crisis manifested in the obviously inhuman conditions more than 200 minors were experiencing in the informal settlement of Patras the for the housing of refugees responsable Ministry of Health and Social Welfare opened two new medium size reception centers for UMs and for the first time a legal guardian was appointed for a group of minors.

Only a few months later the Greek government had to react to a further accumulation of Ums – this time of new arriving children in Leros. Again a legal guardian was appointed and they were transferred to different reception centers.

In June 2008 a meeting of refugee lawyers in Lesvos island visited the detention center Pagani on time while the number of UMs in detention had reached more than 100. They had begun a hunger strike against the degradating detention conditions and the imprisonment as such. Reacting to this new crisis and the pressure of the human rights lawyers, some of them working for the UNHCR Greece and other refugee NGOs, the Ministry together with the foundation Theomitor opened the reception center Villa Azadi in Agiasos, a location that was being discussed as an option for some months. Since October 2008 Villa Azadi has reached its reception capacity. Ocasionally groups of 10-20 are being transferred from the local detention center when UMs leave Villa Azadi.

In the beginning of 2009 a new reception center of this type was opened in Konitsa, in the north of Greece, offering another 100 places to UMs. Further openings of new reception centers are planned by the Greek government for this year.

Ιn August 2009, the detention center of Lesvos island was again overcrowded. More than 300 minors were detained at and some of them for more than two months. As part of an emergency plan the number of hosted minors in Villa Azadi was increased temporarily from 96 to 160. At the same time the infrastructure was not adjusted to this development neither more staff was employed. Most of the 85 newcomers left as soon as they found tickets to Athens. Around 200 minors were transferred into provisoric summer camps in Lesvos and Athens. In the beginning of September another 29 minors were transferred to Villa Azadi. For the time being the number of minors in Villa Azadi has increased again to 125 – it is again higher than the capacities. The reception crisis is not ending but increasing.


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