(Athens) – Greek authorities regularly detain asylum-seeking and other migrant children traveling on their own in small, crowded, and unsanitary police station cells, Human Rights Watch said today. They are held there for weeks and months, waiting for space in shelter facilities.
Greece should immediately end this practice and find space for unaccompanied children in open facilities with decent living conditions where they can receive care, counseling, legal aid, and other basic services.
“Police cells are no place for children who have fled their countries, endured perilous journeys, and are all alone in Greece,” saidRebecca Riddell, Europe fellow at Human Rights Watch. “Locking vulnerable children in cramped and dirty cells for weeks or months is never an acceptable alternative for kids who need and deserve care and protection.”
Although detaining children in police stations was originally intended as a short-term protection measure, a lack of shelters and other alternatives has led to arbitrary prolonged detention in places unfit for children, Human Rights Watch said. According to National Center for Social Solidarity (EKKA), as of July 18 an estimated 18 children were locked in police stations awaiting transfer, while hundreds of other unaccompanied children were held in large detention centers, including on the Greek islands, where they were not free to leave.
On visits to two police stations between June 26 and July 1, 2016, Human Rights Watch spoke with 11 children, some as young as 14, who had been detained for up to two months. Human Rights Watch was not allowed to look at the cells.
The children described unsanitary, overcrowded cells, including dirty blankets and bugs, and lack of access to information or services such as counseling and legal aid. At a police station in northeast Greece, children said a broken shower drain was causing water to flood their cell and that they used their clothes to block the water. The station commander said that as many as 23 children had recently been in a cell with a capacity of 10.
“Babrak K.,” a 16-year-old boy from Afghanistan, said that before being transferred to the station in northwest Greece where Human Rights Watch spoke to him, he spent five days in a nearby police station in a windowless, vermin-infested basement cell. He said that four people shared three mattresses on the floor, and that the toilet had no door. He said that food was thrown into the cell through a small slot in the door and that because detainees were not provided with cups, he drank water from a discarded food container.
At both police stations, children said they were not allowed to leave their small cells. Some said their meeting with Human Rights Watch was the first time in weeks that they had left their cells.