Leaving your home and embarking on a perilous journey to another corner of the world is a traumatic experience – particularly for young kids. At an age where they should be worrying about schoolwork and playing with toys, the refugee kids from Syria and Middle East are living in tents and temporary shelters, worrying if their relentless expedition will ever end.
They struggle for basic needs such as food, medicine, water and shelter, and by the time they arrive in Europe, they are traumatized and shocked. Children who have families might still be hopeful about their future, but those who have lost their friends and parents to the grave circumstances often are completely hopeless.
These young refugees have no idea how to proceed after stepping off the boat, but instead of helping them, Greek authorities are treating them like criminals.
As The Independent reports, children who arrive on the Greek Island of Kos by boat from Turkey without their parents or adult relatives are held in filthy police cells alongside adult criminals while authorities determine where to relocate them.
The officials claim that they lock up the children for their own safety, but volunteers from a nongovernmental organization that visits Kos’s central police station have painted an appalling picture of the said “medieval” detainment facility.
“It’s really filthy,” revealed a volunteer. “There are bare electrical wires sticking out of the ceiling… There is shit on the floor and it is running out of the cell. They have to reach out through bars to receive their food. This is not normal in Europe.”
More disturbingly, they sometimes go on for days without having proper food and live in the prisons cells for weeks. Not only are they prohibited from going outside, they are handcuffed if they are moved to a different location, according to witnesses.
“It’s a horrible cell,” said Tim Ubhi, the clinical director of Children’s E-Hospital, who visited the police cell three times to help refugees on the island. “It’s like a medieval dungeon – there’s no other way to describe it.”
As Greek law states, if young asylum-seekers cannot be matched up with their relatives, they are placed in the custody of the public prosecutor until the state can arrange a suitable legal guardian elsewhere in Greece – basically, it means the children are handed over to the police.
Although this disturbing practice had been going on ever since refugees began flooding the island of Kos, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees has only now intervened. The U.N. body has actually reached an agreement with Kos’s public prosecutor, which means in future, such children will be placed in the care of a particular U.N.-funded organization.
“Clearly [custody] remains a state responsibility. However, given the fact that is not happening at the speed needed for the numbers of refugees arriving in Greece, the U.N. has been happy to step in and help,” said Marco Procaccini, director of the UNHCR office on the island.
These children belong to a generation that has suffered extreme pain and hardships their entire life, and such conditions are bound to have a devastating impact on them. Despite U.N.’s intervention, there are still 11 children – aged between 12 and 17 – reportedly being held in two Kos police stations.