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Monday, 14 November 2016 - 11:15am

Fears for 6,000 children as some camps on Greek islands soar to triple their capacity.

An estimated 6,000 children living in detention centres and camps on the Greek islands are at risk with facilities on four out of five islands overflowing, Save the Children warned ahead of US President Barack Obama’s visit to Athens on 15 November.

With most new arrivals detained on the islands since the European Union’s deal with Turkey in March this year, 16,229 refugees and migrants – including 6,000 children – are living in facilities designed to hold only 8,204 people. Chios is the most crowded and is at 380 percent capacity, with 4,100 people living in facilities intended for just 1,100. Samos is at 321 percent capacity, Kos at 199 percent and Lesvos at 174 percent.

“Many children, including unaccompanied children and children with disabilities, are currently living in squalid, crowded conditions on the Greek islands. Some children are forced to live in tents on the beach and use dirty toilets, exposing them to the risk of disease. They also have less access to basic services and protection,” said Andreas Ring, Save the Children’s Response Director in Greece. “With winter almost here, conditions will continue to deteriorate and we may see people sleeping in parks without any shelter, tents flooded and destroyed and an increase in mental and physical health issues. With no end in sight, children could still be stranded in these camps for months.

"The crowded conditions, together with the slow asylum process, are also creating a toxic environment in the camps and is leading to regular protests, which often turn violent. Under no circumstances is this a safe environment for children as they often get caught up in the violence.

“One six-year-old child living in a camp in Leros said to our staff: ‘There's nothing nice here so there's no good part of my day. This place is like a prison and I just want to go back home.”’

Save the Children urges President Obama and other world leaders to do more to ensure the safety of child refugees and migrants around the world, including in Greece.

“At the Leaders Summit for Refugees hosted by President Obama in September this year, important first steps were made in improving the lives of refugees around the world. However, much more still needs to be done and huge gaps remain,” Ring said. “In his speech tomorrow in Greece, it is hoped that President Obama will use the opportunity to advocate for EU Member States to remember commitments made at the Summit and to do more to improve the situation for children in Greece. Instead of resorting to expulsions and detention centres, EU Member States should be sharing the responsibility of helping families and children who are fleeing violence and destruction.

“It is totally unacceptable for children and families be living in crowded camps where conditions are well below international standards. To relieve congestion, the EU should support Greece to move as many people as possible to safe and open camps on the mainland, starting with the most vulnerable people.

“The EU also needs to speed up the processing of asylum claims and the relocation and family reunification programs.”

Save the Children has been providing assistance to children and adults across Greece since August 2015. We have operations across key locations in Greece: on the islands of Lesvos, Chios, Samos, Leros and Kos, and on the mainland in the Attika region (Athens) and in Northern Greece.

Photos and extended captions of children living in the camps with health conditions are available here:


Notes to editors

• Figures on the islands are sourced from the Greek Government: http://www.media.gov.gr/images/prosfygiko/REFUGEE_FLOWS-09-11-2016.pdf

• According to UNICEF, 37% of people arriving in Greece since January 2016 are children. The Greek Government reports there are currently 16,225 people on the islands. Thus, we estimate there are more than 6,000 children on the Greek islands. UNHCR: http://data.unhcr.org/mediterranean/country.php?id=83