Children face dreadful conditions in Greek centres says UNICEF

Refugee and Migrant families on Samos island, a location of Vathi reception centre in Greece Refugee and Migrant families on Samos island, a location of Vathi reception centre in Greece UNHCR/Yorgos Kyvernitis

24 September 2018

Refugee and migrant children sheltered in reception centres on the Greek islands Lesbos and  Samos face deteriorating living conditions.

On 21 September 2018, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) warned of the increasingly dangerous living conditions in Greek island reception centres due to overcrowding. Some children have been in these centres for over a year, despite Greek law having a 25-day maximum stay. UNICEF reported that between January and August 2018, an average of over 850 migrant and refugee children arrived monthly on Greek islands.

Lucio Melandri, UNICEF Country Coordinator in Greece expressed concerns about two facilities in particular: Moria on Lesbos and Vathi on Samos. Currently, Moria hosts 9,000 people, which is almost three times its capacity of 3,100 people, while Samos hosts 4,000 people despite being built to hold only 650 people. Children are especially at risk in these centres, with UNICEF calling their situation “dire and dangerous.” A doctor working for Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) said that the children have “experienced extreme levels of violence and trauma” in their home countries and are subjected to “ongoing fear, stress and episodes of further violence” in the Moria centre. Melandri stated that children are exposed to the direct threats of “abuse, violence, [and] riots” and the indirect threats of “not having opportunity to access basic vital services” including appropriate nutrition, hygienic conditions, and education.

MSF reported that children in Moria suffer from anxiety, panic attacks, and aggressive outbursts and are exposed to infections such as recurrent diarrhoea and skin diseases. Additionally, the agency observed multiple cases of teenage refugees self-harming or attempting suicide on a weekly basis.

UNICEF is urging authorities to speed up the process of transferring vulnerable migrants and refugees inland. MSF is calling for this transfer to happen immediately as well. Louise Roland-Gosselin, MSF’s Head of Mission in Greece, said  “It is time… to stop this never-ending cycle of emergency decongestions.” Greece pledged to relocate 2,000 people from Lesbos to the mainland by the end of September, according to Reuters.


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