Two children transferred out of Malakasa, protection still denied to many

Following two requests for interim measures before the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR), two unaccompanied children from Syria aged 12 and 13 are finally transferred to a shelter for minors after over two months of confinement in unsafe conditions.

In March 2020, the two Syrian boys arrived in Greece unaccompanied. They were arrested and automatically placed in detention despite being recognised as minors. They were issued with detention and deportation orders and were detained among adults in degrading conditions pursuant to an emergency decree adopted on 2 March 2020 by the Greek government, which suspended access to asylum for one month and foresaw immediate deportation for those entering the Greek territory, without registration to their countries of origin or to Turkey. As a result of the decree, people arriving in Greece in March, including the two minors, were arbitrarily denied the right to make an asylum application and to benefit from the rights and entitlements conferred on asylum seekers by domestic and European Union law.

On 27 March 2020 RSA appealed before ECtHR, requesting the Court to indicate interim measures under Rule 39 of the Rules of Court for the protection of the two unaccompanied children and their transfer to suitable reception facilities.

Meanwhile, the two boys received on 7 April 2020 police referral notes informing them that they had been released from detention, although until the end of April no one was permitted to exit the facility.

Following correspondence between the Court and the government, on 15 April 2020 the ECtHR decided not to grant interim measures, on the ground that the government had already made commitments to ensure that the applicants would receive treatment in accordance with Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). Yet, the applicants had submitted information indicating that no change in their situation had taken place.

RSA lodged a fresh request for interim measures on 23 April 2020, following which the Court adjourned its decision and requested again the government to indicate “what concrete measures have been taken for the applicants’ transfer, as well as for the appointment of a guardian”.

The children were ultimately transferred to an accommodation place on 7 and 8 May respectively, that is over two months after their arrival in Greece.

While welcoming the applicants’ recent transfer to a shelter for minors, RSA regrettably notes that demanding litigation procedures and recourse before the Strasbourg Court for interim relief have become necessary to secure the consideration and protection of even the most basic rights of children. Recourse to the ECtHR is not accessible in every case of children at risk and cannot substitute a reliable and well-functioning child protection system, which remains a pressing need for Greece.

In April 2020, in a different case concerning a homeless unaccompanied boy living in destitution in a Greek city, the ECtHR again refused to grant interim measures requested under Rule 39 including the placement of the child in a shelter for minors. Until today the child still sleeps rough in the streets and the government has taken no measures for the child’s protection.

The predicament of the two boys leaving Malakasa this week illustrates the chronic gaps in the protection of unaccompanied children and the absence of an effective guardianship system in Greece. It is also testament to an increasing disregard on the part of the authorities of obligations enshrined in national, European and international law, and a failure to follow through on guarantees provided to the ECtHR.

RSA and PRO ASYL continue to defend the rights of the most vulnerable and will assist the children in their family reunification procedure with relatives in Germany.

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