A decision of the European Committee on Social Rights finding that the living conditions of migrant children in Greece violated their human rights, should herald a new approach to protecting the rights of children in migration, the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ), the European Council for Refugees and Exiles (ECRE) and the Greek Council for Refugees (GCR) said today.
The European Committee on Social Rights (ECSR), in its decision on the collective complaint brought by the ICJ and ECRE with the support of the Greek Council of Refugees (ICJ and ECRE v Greece), found that in its treatment of migrant children, Greece violated a number of provisions of the European Social Charter, which is binding on the States party to it.
“We welcome this decision which upholds our complaint of systematic violations of the rights of migrant children in Greece.” said Róisín Pillay, Europe and Central Asia director at ICJ. “These include inadequate, unhealthy and dangerous living conditions, homelessness, and lack of access to adequate healthcare and education. Comprehensive and effective measures now need to be taken to bring an end to the violations which the Committee has identified, and we will work with the Council of Europe supervisory bodies to ensure that this happens.”
The Committee found that overcrowded and substandard accommodation for both unaccompanied and accompanied children on the Greek islands, and the lack of sufficient appropriate long-term accommodation for unaccompanied children on the mainland, violated their rights to shelter (Article 31.2 of the Charter) and to social and economic protection (Article 17.1). It also failed to meet their right to protection against social and moral danger (Article 7.10), by exposing them to risks of abuse, violence, sexual exploitation and trafficking. The right to adequate housing (Article 31.1) of asylum-seeking and refugee children on the islands and of unaccompanied asylum-seeking and refugee children on the mainland, was also found to have been violated.
“This decision is an important recognition that the conditions in which migrant children find themselves on EU soil, whether they are homeless on the Greek mainland, or were amongst those stranded on the Greek North Aegean islands as a result the EU-Turkey statement, have led to violations of international law. It requires a re-thinking of how migrant children’s rights are protected, not only in Greece, but across the EU, and underlines the need for non-emergency solutions and long-term protection arrangements for children who remain in lengthy identification and asylum procedures.” said Stavros Papageorgopoulos, Legal Officer at ECRE.
The Committee also found that the right to protection of health (Article 11.1 and 11.3) had been violated due to the failure to provide appropriate accommodation and healthcare to migrant children on the islands, and appropriate shelter to unaccompanied children on the mainland. The right to education (Article 17.2) of children on the islands was also violated due to the difficulties in accessing the education system. The Committee found no violation of the right to adequate food (Article 13.1)
The failure to appoint legal guardians to unaccompanied and separated migrant children, so as to provide them with effective assistance, was held by the Committee to violate the right to social and economic protection under Article 17.1 of the Charter. The detention of unaccompanied children under the Greek “protective custody” scheme, under which children were sometimes detained for months and which has now been discontinued and explicitly prohibited by law, also violated Article 17.1. The Committee emphasised that detention of children in police stations or in closed facilities, even for short periods of time, cannot be an alternative to proper shelter and accommodation suited to the age and the needs of the child.
“Despite steps forward, such as the abolition by law of the possibility to detain unaccompanied children under the pretext of protective custody, to a great extent the situation of migrant children in Greece remains alarming and more needs to be done in order effective protection of migrants children to be ensured. The decision of the ECSR can contribute to this direction. Moreover, migrant children are now facing new challenges and protection risks due to measures and policies adopted by the Greek Authorities. The establishment of the so-called ‘closed’ or ‘controlled’ centers on the Greek islands and the recent designation of Turkey as a safe third country for the majority of the asylum seekers currently in Greece, including migrant children, are only two examples of such measures”, said Alexandros Konstantinou of the Greek Council of Refugees
The European Committee on Social Rights is an expert Committee of the Council of Europe charged with supervising the obligations of Council of Europe Member States under the European Social Charter through collective complaints and national reports by Contracting Parties. Collective complaints can be brought by non-governmental organisations and social partners, alleging violation of the rights of the Charter.
The collective complaint by International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) and European Council for Refugees and Exiles (ECRE) v. Greece (Complaint No. 173/2018) was lodged with the Committee in 2018. It challenged the failure of Greece to provide for adequate accommodation and access to other rights to migrant and asylum-seeking children in reception centers in the North Eastern Aegean islands and children living in the streets of Athens and elsewhere on mainland Greece, whether with their families or unaccompanied.
The Committee previously issued a decision on immediate measures in the case on 23 May 2019, which required the government to immediately provide migrant children with appropriate shelter, food, water, education and medical care; to remove unaccompanied migrant children from detention and from Reception and Identification Centers (RICs) at the borders, place them in suitable accommodation for their age and appoint effective guardians.
Photo (CC): Alex Griffioen September 2006