By Munira Abdelmenan Awel
The number of refugee and migrant children arriving at Greek islands this January to August rose 32 percent compared to the same period last year, according to a UNICEF report issued Friday.
According to Lucio Melandri, UNICEF's country coordinator for the refugee and migrant response in Greece, based on patterns from years past, the number of refugees and migrants coming to Greece by sea is expected to climb in the coming months.
“As the number of refugee and migrant children arriving on the Greek islands increases, conditions at the centers hosting these children are becoming more dire and dangerous,” he warned in a statement accompanying the new report.
Melandri lamented that more than 7,000 children – more than 850 a month on average – travel the dangerous sea route, most of them ending up in overcrowded, unsafe centers.
“All refugees and migrants living in the Reception and Identification Centers, especially children, need to be transferred to the mainland without further delay to make sure they can have adequate accommodation, protection, health care, and other basic services.”
The statement urged the immediate transfer of refugees and migrants from the islands to the Greek mainland, more resettlement prioritizing children, and speedy family reunification procedures from other EU member states.
“Greek authorities and communities have done as much as they can to support refugee and migrant children – but they can no longer cope with the sheer numbers and needs,” Melandri added.
Children suffer health and protection risks, including severe psychological distress, in the centers, where violence, domestic abuse, protests, and unrest are commonplace, said the UN.
“The majority of children and young people I met have dealt with the trauma of war and then been forced to flee their homes. Now they are living in miserable conditions, with no end in sight. Many are in severe emotional distress,” said Melandri.
Under Greek law, refugees and migrants should spend a maximum of 25 days at the centers to complete arrival procedures, but many stay longer.
UNICEF has supported refugee and migrant children and their families in Greece since mid-2016, helping more than 60,000 refugee and migrant children get access to vital child protection services, psychosocial support, and access to health care and education.