Greek coalition government criticised for delays in responding to refugee and migrant needs

Greek political party Syriza condemned the coalition government for the plight of the thousands of refugees and migrants stranded in Greece. Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and his migration minister particularly came under fire on Monday 30 October during a meeting of the party’s political secretariat when they were blamed for delays in providing migrants and refugees with appropriate accommodation as winter approaches.

Tsipras acknowledged there was still many problems with regard to living conditions at accommodation centres, but at the same time blamed many of the problems on “the lack of coordination between relevant ministries and the fact that Greece is shouldering a disproportionate burden compared to other European countries.”

NGOs have for a long time reported on key challenges faced by unaccompanied migrant children in Greek refugee camps. For instance, Alfonso Montero Policy director and deputy chief executive of the European Social Network indicated on 25 October that there was no adequate public support or specific legal framework to support unaccompanied minors after years of austerity.

Two-thirds of the nearly 3,000 unaccompanied refugee and migrant children currently in Greece are not receiving proper care shelter and care, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) has also warned.

Solutions include transferring these children to shelters on the mainland without delays, devoting available funding to existing shelters with the right standards, and putting more foster care in place, said Laurent Chapuis, Country Coordinator for UNICEF’s refugee and migrant response in Greece in a recent press release.

“Although the Greek authorities and their partners have made tremendous efforts in responding to the needs of children and families, the recent surge in the refugee and migrant arrivals has led to further overcrowding and deteriorating living conditions in island camps, with some reception facilities hosting twice as many as they were designed for,” Chapuis added.

In September, there were more than 5,700 arrivals in Greece compared to an estimated 3,080 arrivals a year earlier. UNICEF further noted that there were now about 1,800 unaccompanied children waiting for a place in shelter, living in open sites and reception centres.

UNICEF also pointed to the particular vulnerability of children at night without proper safeguards in place. Delays of up to five months in transferring children from the islands to the mainland are compounding their emotional strain.

In key recommendations, UNICEF called for urgent legal and policy reforms to strengthen community-based care in Greece. UNICEF further urged other European countries to step up family reunification for those children who have family elsewhere in Europe.

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