MIANWALI: It is so tragic that unaccompanied migrant and refugee children on the Greek island of Lesbos, most fleeing from war-torn countries like Syria, are being incorrectly identified as adults and housed with unrelated adults, leaving them vulnerable to abuse and unable to access the specific care they need. The misidentification of unaccompanied migrant kids on Lesbos as adults leads to real problems, including putting them with unrelated adults and denying them the care they need. Greek authorities need to take responsibility for properly identifying unaccompanied children and providing them the protection and care every child needs.
Under Greek and international law, unaccompanied children are entitled to special care and protection. But the defective age assessment procedures that are being followed in practice mean that some of these children are wrongly believed to be adults during registration, despite an assurance by Greek officials that a proper, multidiscipline procedure is followed. Other children claim to be adults, believing it will allow them to avoid detention or because they follow bad advice from adults, but then realise they have made a mistake and try to persuade the authorities to register them correctly. They can spend months trying to change their official status, and in the meantime often continue to be treated as adults, or reach adulthood, known as ‘aging out’, while waiting for their correct age to be assessed.
Children registered as adults are left to fend for themselves and are vulnerable to exploitation, trafficking and other abuse. They live in official and unofficial sites with unrelated adult single men; are exposed to inhumane living conditions, including overcrowding, unsanitary conditions, and frequent incidents of violence; and are unable to go to school or otherwise access education. They have little or no access to care, protection, or specialised services, and are excluded from accommodation for unaccompanied children.
The Greek government should ensure that there are sufficient and suitable alternatives to detention and end the unjustified detention of unaccompanied children, which deters children from registering as such. They must also ensure that qualified interpreters assist unaccompanied migrant children, since language acts as a major barrier.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 31st, 2017.