ATHENS( Reuters) – A top United Nation official advised Greece on Monday to stop detaining refugee and migrant children, some of whom are locked up in police cells for weeks, and to develop child protection services instead.
The U.N. Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants, Francois Crepeau, said he had gratified unaccompanied children held in police stations for more than two weeks without access to the outdoors, and “traumatised and distressed” by the experience.
Others were with their families in overcrowded detention centers, where inter-communal frictions and contradictory datum generated “an unacceptable level of disarray, frustration, violence and fear”, he said.
“Children should not be detained – period, ” told Crepeau, on a fact-finding mission in Greece from May 12 to 16.
“Detention should only be ordered when people present a risk, a danger, a threat to the public and it has to be a documented threat, it cannot simply be a hunch.”
Crepeau told children and households should be offered alternatives to detention. He advised authorities to develop a “substantial and effective” guardianship system for unaccompanied minors and increase the shelter capability for them.
More than a million migrants, many fleeing the Syrian war, have arrived in Europe through Greece since last year. More than 150,000 have arrived in 2016 so far, 38 percent of them children, according to U.N. refugee agency data.
Greece, in its sixth year of economic crisis, has struggled to be dealt with the numbers.
International charity Save the Children tells an estimated 2,000 unaccompanied children who travelled alone to Europe or lost their families on the way are stranded in Greece and merely 477 shelter spaces are available across the country.
“( Unaccompanied minors) are put in … protective custody and the only place there is space( for them) is the cell in police stations and that’s which is something we find them quite often, ” Crepeau said.
“Spending 16 days( in a police cell) is way too long. What is needed is specialized body of competent professionals who can take care of unaccompanied minors.”
( Reporting by Karolina Tagaris; editing by Andrew Roche )
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