In recent years, irregular entry of migrants into Greece – many of whom are from the Middle East – is an issue that Greek authorities have been working hard to bring under control. Unaccompanied children and youths make up a good number of the new arrivals and, with the country still working to find stability after a devastating financial crisis, systems for protecting minors are not entirely adequate.
According to a human rights report, more than 1,900 unaccompanied children arrived in Greece in early 2016 alone, with more than half under the age of 14. Social services such as psychological care, guardianship and language training are taken up by civil society organisations, many that are constrained by lack of funds.
Children who are separated from their caregivers are more susceptible to abuse, exploitation and neglect. As vulnerable members of society, it is the shared responsibility of governments, citizens and non-profit organisations to protect and care for unaccompanied minors, which is an obligation captured by the United Nations Convention on Rights of the Child. It is with this in mind that several organisations in Greece have teamed together to fund a programme to address the issue of unaccompanied and separated children.
Various European public interest groups, led by the European Programme for Integration and Migration (EPIM), the Stavros Niarchos Foundation, the John S. Latsis Public Benefit Foundation, and the Bodossaki Foundation, among others, have come together in an initiative called “Never Alone – Building our future with children and youth arriving in Europe.”
The John S. Latsis Public Benefit Foundation, which has Greek businessman Spiro Latsis as an executive member, was established in 2005 to continue the charitable works of its founder, John S. Latsis. The Foundation has put public benefit at the forefront of its work by funding and managing programs aimed at improving various aspects of Greek society, including health, education, science and culture.
The EPIM fund is designed to offer assistance to civil society organisations that will focus their attention on three important aspects:
- Building secure networks and structures that aid the identification process of unaccompanied and separated minors.
- Providing protection mechanisms that improve guardianship systems for these children.
- Raising awareness among the public on issues that affect unaccompanied minors and increasing support towards youth programs.
The overall goal of the projects, funded to the tune of 450,000 Euros over a two-year period, will be to ensure the children who make the highly-risky journey into Greece have access to information and services such as accommodation and protection. It’s the aim of the various groups working together to see that the migrant children and youths have access to high-quality medical, psychological, social and legal support that will help them integrate into the Greek society.
Helping unaccompanied and separated children find new life in Greece is one of the humanitarian aspects of the John S. Latsis Public Benefit Foundation. In 2015, the Foundation opened an Accommodation Centre for Unaccompanied Minors that addressed the need to provide quality accommodation to minors who have lived in detention centres for long periods. Along with proper housing, the Accommodation Centre also provides legal counselling, mediation services, Greek language courses, and psychosocial support to its residents.
When it comes to child welfare, the Foundation has focused on initiatives that improve and increase the provision of social services to children. It has funded some initiatives, including paediatric clinics, heating fuel programmes for orphanages, and meeting the core costs of risk youth centres and children’s hospices. Since many child welfare organisations struggle to raise finances to keep going, the Foundation continually strives to support them.
While Greek legislation has provisions for the temporary appointment of guardians, the growing number of minors has put a strain on public workers’ caseloads and, since the number of daily actions that require a guardian’s consent are many, the absence of a special guardians body has made it all the more necessary for charitable foundations to step in and assist however they can. It’s a gap that the civil society has shown a willingness to cover, as evidenced by the actions of the John S. Latsis Public Benefit Foundation and others.
Based on the experience of the involved foundations and additional research, the potential for improved knowledge and practical solutions grows. Through the project, caregiving staff will get to interact with the children and youths and possibly uncover some of the reasons behind their journeys; an issue of concern in many European countries. A policy brief from this can address the political reasons, with the increased awareness helping Greece and other member states to address issues of neglect and exploitation of children and youths.