At a time when “at least 35% of all unaccompanied children in Greece, are cases of family reunification […] bureaucracy gets more and more complicated and time consuming. […] The constant pressure with the deadlines for reunification is in itself inhuman and immoral.”
METAdrasi has already launched a systematic effort to raise the issue of responsibility sharing among European countries regarding unaccompanied refugee children: “We are absolutely right and we need to raise this issue further and demand the assistance of all EU member states, as well as other European countries.”
You may read here in Greek the article-intervention by Lora Pappa, founder and president of METAdrasi, published by the newspaper Kathimeri.
Read bellow the full article transalted into English.
Lora Pappa: Unaccompanied Minors and European Responsibility
“The Greek Asylum Service, understaffed and with a huge burden of cases, is unable to respond to these unbelievable demands. This is why, almost single-handedly, specialised staff from METAdrasi prepares the documentation necessary for family reunification for a large number of children.”
The situation of Unaccompanied Minors is desperate. We estimate that their real number is larger than the official one, and for the first time passes the bar of 5,500 registered minors. In the islands alone there are more than 1,700 children, of whom 1,100 live in the Moria camp. Many children are totally unprotected while awaiting to be registered, cohabiting with hundreds of adults. Some sleep on the roofs of containers, some sleep without even a blanket.
The children suffer from depression, they self-harm, they are desperate. There are voices urging them to make trouble; they are told this is the only way to leave Moria and go to Athens.
At least 35% of the total of unaccompanied children in Greece are qualified for reunification. This is a major issue and perhaps the sole issue that can reopen a wider discussion about the sharing of responsibility in Europe.
The procedure of reunification takes eight to ten months at best, but it can reach up to 24 months. Beyond the three months necessary for the request to be issued by the Greek authorities, two more months are needed by the end of which the country where the relative lives is obliged by the Dublin Regulation to give an answer. If the reply is positive, two to four more months are necessary for a ticket to be issued so that the child can legally leave Greece. Every country, depending on the policies it wishes to adhere to, makes its own, often unreasonable, demands. Most cases refer to reunification with relatives in Germany.
Thus, a heavy bureaucracy has intentionally been created. For the request to be issued from Greece a documentation must be established which includes consecutive and often complicated steps, research, communication with relatives, production of documents, in many cases DNA tests, a 30-40 page document proving that the child’s best interest lies in reunification with their relative. The certification of the relative’s suitability, i.e. of an uncle who lives in Germany, necessitates, not only a written consent from both the uncle and the child that they wish to reunite—which is normal—a copy of the legal status of the uncle, the rental agreement of the house in Germany where he resides, his bank account number, a certificate from his employer if he is salaried, or the benefits he is eventually receiving from the State. If the uncle has any health problems, it must be proven via tests and doctors’ notes that the problem does not impinge upon his ability to look after the child. We must also provide evidence of the uncle’s social status, describe the level of the relationship between the two and include all certification documents from the country of origin—in the original language and translated into English!
The Greek Asylum Service, understaffed and with a huge burden of cases, is unable to respond to these unbelievable demands. This is why, almost single-handedly, specialised staff from METAdrasi prepares the documentation necessary for family reunification for a large number of children.
If the three-month deadline is not respected, with the exception of special cases, the children irreversibly lose the right to be reunited with their relatives. There are member countries who never reply. Because of the situation in the islands of the Eastern Aegean, on a daily basis dozens of children as well as other vulnerable cases lose their legal right of reunification with their relatives and either have to stay in Greece, either will try to leave illegally to join their relatives.
As of last year, bureaucracy is becoming more and more complicated and time-consuming. Rejections without justification are also constantly increasing. It is interesting to note that the percentage of acceptance of children keeps decreasing: about 65% for the cases processed by METAdrasi in 2019.
This continued pressure on reunification deadlines is inhuman and immoral. As a country of first reception with thousands of refugees and migrants “caged in” on the islands, it is not reasonable that we must be obliged to follow such procedures. We are within our rights and we must put this matter to the fore and demand the participation of all member countries, as well as countries outside the EU. Present policy only succeeds in delivering desperate children into the hands of traffickers.
There is a positive point in the fact that, since last month, at least the departure of unaccompanied children for whom the documentation of acceptance from other member countries is in order has been accelerated. There is, however, an important margin for improvement.
Firstly, it is imperative to establish a unified and simplified procedure for applications for family reunification and the necessary documentation, for all member countries. Additional information, multi-page documents and research of all types must not weigh solely upon countries of first reception, like Greece. The three month deadline for the request for family reunification must start from the date of registration and issuing of the documentation from the Asylum Service and not from the date of registration of the child by FRONTEX upon their arrival.
Secondly, we need the cooperation of other member countries in order to deploy the potential of hospitality structures (some countries have hospitality structures which remain empty) and to accept unaccompanied children directly from their entry points, assuming the procedures from there to the country where the relative lives. If at least ten countries each provided ten structures able to house 20 children, they would accommodate all the children in the process of reunification at this moment in Greece. Thus the children would quickly find themselves in a safe environment, places would be freed in Greece for the rest of the children who are always taking second place and we would gain precious time, funds and personnel to deal with the dozens of other challenges facing a country of first reception.
Thirdly, for unaccompanied children who do not have a relative in another EU country, it is desirable, in cooperation with our European partners, to each designate a number of unaccompanied children we can host. When we are above that number, there has to be a mechanism whereby these children will be shared amongst countries both within and without the EU. Some countries, such as Ireland, have already declared their will to help us. To avoid this door being shut we need coordination and an immediate response. In 2017 we managed, together with the Portuguese asylum services, to send them five unaccompanied children outside of the relocation program which was in force at the time. In Greece the only institutions that were involved were the asylum service and METAdrasi. If more organisations had become involved, perhaps the children would still be here, awaiting their transportation.
Finally, we also on our side must accept our responsibilities and keep our promise for the immediate creation of a definite number of places in suitable hospitality structures. Despite the availability of European funds for this object, the manner of management, the framework and the criteria that have been set over the last few years make it impossible to develop these structures quickly. As a result, only 1/5 of unaccompanied children find themselves in a safe environment.
The situation of unaccompanied children impacts all of us. By using bureaucracy to shift the blame from one to the other, all we succeed in doing is undermining our future.