The plight of unaccompanied migrant minors in Greek detention system: A national and international perspective
Source: Human Rights Watch
On 14 April 2020, Human Rights Watch started the #FreeTheKids campaign to urge the Greek government for the release of ‘unaccompanied migrant minors’, who were detained in police cells and other detention centres in the country. While Greece has an age old problem of detaining these minors in crowded and unhygienic cells, COVID-19 gave thrust to this campaign since these cells made it difficult to observe the guidelines issued by the World Health Organisation (‘WHO’) regarding social distancing, basic health care and sanitation, exposing the minors to the risk of infection. These conditions were highlighted by the drawing of the child who was in such detention centre for almost three months.
A majority of these unaccompanied migrant minors are kept in police stations and detention facilities. A better alternative for accommodation would be Reception and Identification Centres (‘RIC’) as they provide a safer space for short-term stays than holding minors in jail cells. While the livings conditions in RICs are not perfect, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (‘UNHCR’) in its report stated that unlike police cells, these centres at least allow the children to move in and out freely, they provide medical services, psychosocial support as well as informal education and recreational activities for these minors (para. 2.3.3). However, due to acute shortage of RICs and heavy influx of migrant minors, they are accommodated in Greek police cells.
While one year has passed since the European Court of Human Rights (‘ECtHR’) held in H.A. v. Greece and Sh.D. v. Greece that detention of unaccompanied migrant minors in police cells violates international laws, the government of Greece is yet to make sufficient adjustments to its detention system. Building on relevant case law and reports, this article concludes that Greek’s practice of detaining unaccompanied migrant minors in the name of ‘protective custody’ is in violation of their human rights in both ordinary circumstances and extraordinary situations like COVID-19. It also examines the efforts made by the Greek Government in this regard and the intervention of the European Union in order to mitigate the plight of these unaccompanied migrant minors especially in these extraordinary circumstances.