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Thousands of unaccompanied children left without representation

Thousands of unaccompanied children left without representation

Once again, unaccompanied children fall victim to the inaction of the state authorities

Several times in the past three years we have heard that Guardianship is “being institutionalized” in Greece. But is there any real development regarding the Guardianship of Unaccompanied Minors in practice? And what is the current situation with the representation of thousands of unaccompanied children?

The reality is that METAdrasi was the one who initiated in 2014, for the first time in Greece, the creation of a “Guardianship Netwok”, with the support of Bodossaki Foundation and EEA Grants the creation of a “Guardianship Network” through which emerged the key role of the Representatives/Guardians for the protection of unaccompanied children.During the following seven consecutive years, and despite the often insurmountable obstacles, 10,128 unaccompanied children were supported. But once again, METAdrasi’s Representatives / Guardians found themselves in the unpleasant position of informing the children whose case’s they handle, that after August 23 they would no longer be able to support them. “It was a knife in the heart,” says a METAdrasi Guardian.

Since June 2018, when the relevant law on Guardianship was passed, providing for the institution to be taken over by the National Center for Social Solidarity (EKKA), regrettably no progress has been made. All the efforts, in the first eight months of 2019, to transfer the well–formed know-how and experience of METAdrasi to EKKA, both in the field and in the training of future guardians, in order for it to take over, did not have any positive result. As a consequence, in January 2020, METAdrasi was obliged to support 1,400 children using its own resources. Since March 2020, when the voluntary relocation scheme was inaugurated, the importance of the Guardiandship Network was highlighted once again: with renewed financial support from the European Commission and the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, METAdrasi represented 1,587 children in their interviews, securing their best interest in relocating to other EU countries and 860 children in security interviews requested by specific EU member states.However, thousands of children that were not to be relocated, were left without representation and METAdrasi, using once again its own resources, supported particularly urgent and vulnerable cases.

Following the sign of the agreement after a relevant tender from EKKA, in January 2021, METAdrasi immediately started a “race against time”: by increasing the capacity of its representatives / guardians from 30 to 70, and after having completed 40 hours of intensive training implemented by the Organization, they immediately began to undertake minor’s cases; in the first phase all children under 15 and girls up to 18 years old and in the second phase all vulnerable children over 15 years old. By August 2021, METAdrasi had managed to take over, with prosecutorial authorization, 87% of the cases of unaccompanied children in the country.

In 2020 it was decided that the Guardianship of Unaccompanied Minors would remain under the responsibility of the Ministry of Labor and specifically of EKKA.For the past three months, however, it was rumored that the responsibility would be transferred to the Special Secretariat for the Protection of Unaccompanied Minors at the Ministry of Migration and Asylum, as it was finally confirmed by the enactment of the relevant law.

Due to this development and, despite the fact that the European Commission has already allocated all the necessary funds for the financing of Guardianship, the Ministry of Labor / EKKA has not announced a new tender for the continuation of the representation of unaccompanied minors.On the other hand, the Special Secretariat for the Protection of Unaccompanied Minors, despite knowing that it would take over the Guardianship, does not seem to be prepared to guarantee at least a transitional period, so that the children are not left without representation.

METAdrasi has submitted an extensive memorandum outlining the difficulties, problems and suggestions for improving the representation of unaccompanied minors, and has handed over to EKKA all the cases of the children undertaken until August 23, a total of 2,404 cases.These include hundreds of particularly vulnerable cases and dozens of pending cases. Who will take care of these children from now on?

METAdrasi has also stated that currently is in the process of securing funding in order to directly support a smaller number of particularly vulnerable children’s cases in the mainland, but also in specific points at the border, such as in Orestiada.

However, the significant gap created by the lack of representation of children in all the, often labyrinthine, procedures of accessing the asylum process, as well as the public health system, education, meeting their needs, registering them at the border, determining their best interests and many others, cannot be addressed.

The representative / guardian also plays a key role in the current issue of the employment of 16-year-olds in hotel units.Who will take responsibility and who will ensure that unaccompanied children will not fall victims of labor exploitation?

Knowing the serious problems that will arise by the lack of representation of unaccompanied children;knowing firsthand what these children are going through, being the ones to be once again traumatized by losing their “person of trust” as a result of the state authorities inaction:

We call on the competent authorities to work together, having in mind solely the best interest of unaccompanied children, in order to find a way to secure representation for all minors immediately, at least for a transitional period, until the Special Secretariat for Unaccompanied Minors that is now responsible for Guardianship, will have sufficient time to implement an effective, independent system for the protection of all unaccompanied children in Greece.

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