The ‘children of the deal’: No fundamental rights
During the five years of the implementation of the EU-Turkey ‘deal’ on the refugee issue, thousands of children lived and continued to live in the Reception and Identification Centers (RICs) and other reception areas on the islands and the mainland, either accompanied by their families or as unaccompanied children. Many children have become witnesses of extreme situations mainly because of their confinement on the islands and the deterioration of living conditions. These are children in a crucial age for their development that have been deprived of crucial rights such as secure living conditions and access to formal education.
The COVID-19 pandemic has burdened further this situation. Despite calls for the immediate evacuation of RICs from children since last year and the promises of European partners for relocations, thousands of children continue to experience a nightmare situation. These are future European citizens and Europe has turned its back to them.
Four expert professionals present a brief position in relation to the impact that the confinement in inhuman conditions in RICs and the breach of their fundamental rights has upon the mental health, rights and life in general of refugee, asylum-seeking and migrant minors.
The fundamental principle of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child that establishes the right of each child not to be discriminated on any ground, including his/her legal status or that of his/her parents, has sustained a serious hit in the past five years on the Aegean islands, and not only there, by the living conditions imposed to tens of thousands of children from Asia and Africa moving to Greece in search of international protection. Their obligatory stay for an indeterminate period in environments that ranged from particularly insecure to harmful and the forced exclusion of most of them from formal education are two of the leading forms of their discriminatory treatment linked with a breach also of their other fundamental rights.
As Children’s Ombudsman, from the first moment of the signature of the Joint Statement and during the following years, we tried to highlight this unacceptable situation, with concrete examples of rights’ violations and raise the issue in Greece as well as internationally. The result of repeated visits, autopsies, investigations and interventions, in cooperation with the European Network of Ombudspersons for Children, intergovernmental organizations and civil society organizations, were public statements that noted that children on the move have the same rights on education, health, care, entertainment and generally in social participation as all other children.
Five years on, particularly with new threats against the health and wellbeing of all people on the planet, Europe must stop ‘washing its hands off’ regarding the refugee issue and should take new measures for the implementation of international treaties and the equal protection of the rights of all children.
* Jurist, former Deputy Ombudsman for Children’s Rights
The vast majority of children of refugee origin in our country, especially children living in the reception and identification structures of the islands, are deprived of the right to education, remaining invisible and helpless until their future is judged through time-consuming and often opaque procedures. Due to the pandemic and the way it is handled, children’s lack of access to education is reinforced. To this one should add the dire conditions of confinement; material deprivation as well as deprivation of intellectual stimuli; and the fact that they are deemed unwanted and dangerous third-class people, for whom simple survival is considered a very satisfactory goal.
The current state of affairs, far from serving Children’s and Human Rights or fostering thinking and other skills, diminishes the mental and intellectual potential of these children, with inevitable consequences in their adult life. At the same time, it encourages the development of phobic and racist attitudes towards them by the host societies, conveying a strong message of rejection, stigma and exclusion.
* Associate Professor of Intercultural Education Department of Preschool Education University of Ioannina
Children “on the move” will go through a lot: war, hunger, extreme poverty, forced conscription, forced marriage, traveling as victims of smuggling or trafficking (often alternating roles) hardships, dangers, survival sexwork, illegality. Arriving in Greece, they will face confinement in miserable camps, a permanent hostage status, experiences of police violence, concealment/ deprivation of rights, exploitation. These children feel trapped in a country where they did not want to settle, which does not seem to want them either.
Because of all this, some will develop mental/ behavioral disorders. They are offered minimal help or care for their present and future. Unaccompanied minors are not offered (even) a relationship with a responsible and trustworthy person (the guardianship for unaccompanied minors is yet to be implemented in Greece…). They are only provided with usually poor quality accommodation, in a ghettoized area and no hope for a better life.
Five years after the EU-Turkey Joint Statement, migration flows have not stopped or deterred substantially – they have simply continued to pose a greater risk to life for populations on the move and have created tens of thousands of people trapped in first reception countries such as Greece. People who can no longer go “forward” or “back”. And that no future exists for them anywhere. Many of them are children. Mentally traumatized children who continue to be victimized. It is time to look after their social integration, so that they have the prospect of a better life.
* Psychiatrist, Director of the Department of Mental Health and Social Welfare of the Institute of Child Health, former Chairperson of the Lanzarote Committee of the Council of Europe for the Protection of Children against Sexual Exploitation and Sexual Abuse.
The EU-Turkey ‘deal’ recognizes Turkey as a “safe third country” is a culmination of anti-refugee/anti-migration policies implemented for years by Greek governments in line with EU requirements with the aim to reduce refugee flows by shaping Greece from a country of transit to a country of imprisonment of thousands of refugees in recent years.
This deal aggravated even further the grim reality experienced by refugees and migrants for years now in Greece. Trapped behind the fences set up by the Greek state and the EU, thousands are stacked in captivity in “modernized” concentration camps. People in tents, scapegoats, people with multiple traumas, scared people are crammed into the hells of the eastern Aegean.
Buying psychiatric drugs in the black market so they can go through the night, addictions even among young children, victims of torture, victims of gender-based and sexual violence, victims of collective and personal tragedies, suicide attempts, unaccompanied children, single women, disorders of the whole spectrum outline what tens of thousands of refugees experience on the islands. And these are for the “lucky ones”, for those who succeeded, who were the lucky ones to survive conflict, traffickers, seas, coastguard, Frontex and push-backs.
The EU-Turkey deal with the aim to deter refugee flows has as a sole effect the perpetuation of the horror for thousands of people. As long as conflicts last, the need for life will always win. Five years later, nothing is more realistic, nothing more necessary than the total annulment of the EU-Turkey deal. The common struggle of locals and refugees to claim its annulment is a historical necessity.
* Social Worker working with refugees