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Greece: Thousands of children at risk of exploitation and disease

Children in a make-shift shelter on the Greek Island of Chios.
Children in a make-shift shelter on the Greek Island of Chios.

Thousands of refugee and migrant children in Greece are at risk of exploitation and disease due to a desperate lack of official reception facilities, our new report has revealed.

More than 109,000 people, the majority Syrians seeking sanctuary in Europe, have landed on the Greek Dodecanese islands this year. In June alone 4,270 children fled to the islands – 86 of them unaccompanied.

But a lack of Greek reception systems mean that basics – such as food, water, medicine and even a safe place to sleep – fall far short of what is needed.

Children at risk

Due to a lack of funding, only one of the nine ‘First Reception Centres’ functions as a full reception centre meaning that those arriving in Greece face cramped, unsanitary, dire conditions – in the informal camps 90 per cent of people do not have an adequate place to sleep.

This shortfall means that the many vulnerable children in Greece, particularly those sleeping outside alone or locked in large mixed groups in cramped detention centres, are at risk of trafficking, sexual exploitation and physical abuse.

Children have told Save the Children staff in Lesvos, Chios, Kos and Athens that they haven’t eaten for days. Many are afraid to sleep outside or go to the bathroom at night because of the risk of abuse.

Abuse isn’t the only threat to babies and young children – diarrhoea, severe sunburn, heatstroke and dehydration are all potentially fatal risks.

Failure

“Refugee and migrant children, particularly unaccompanied children making this dangerous journey alone, are being failed in Greece,” says Kitty Arie, Save the Children’s Director of Advocacy.

“The risk to a child forced to sleep on the street of being abused, or of a baby dying of heatstroke, is very real. And this is Europe in 2015. We can’t leave these children in this desperate situation.”

Time to act

While Greece’s government bears responsibility for setting up a safe, efficient reception systems for refugees and migrants arriving on its shores, the burden cannot fall to them alone.

We’re working hard in these areas to provide help. This week we are distributing essential basic items, such as nappies, hygiene kits and food.

We are also launching a humanitarian response which will include child protection, help with shelter as winter approaches and continued distribution of essential goods in the next two weeks.

Local civil society and international charities have also stepped in to fill some gaps, but more support is urgently needed.

Help needed

As refugees and migrants arriving in Greece are seeking sanctuary across the continent, the European Union also bears responsibility for dealing with the crisis.

That’s why we’re urging the EU to increase the number of relocations from Italy and Greece and to put in place a permanent system to address future emergencies.

The United Nations and non-governmental organisations also have a role to play in not only ensuring that vulnerable children are protected, but that refugees and migrants are treated with dignity.

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