UN refugee agency shocked at conditions at Greek detention facility

28 August 2009

The United Nations refugee agency said it was shocked by the conditions at a detention facility on the Greek island of Lesvos which was overcrowded and holding 200 unaccompanied children.

Staff from the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) visited the detention centre at Pagani, built to hold between 250 and 300 people, earlier this week, according to the agency’s spokesperson Andrej Mahecic.

“They were shocked at the conditions in the facility, where more than 850 people are held, including 200 unaccompanied children, mostly from Afghanistan,” he told reporters in Geneva today.

UNHCR staff described the condition of the centre as “unacceptable,” he stated, adding that one room houses over 150 women and 50 babies, many suffering from illness related to the cramped and unsanitary conditions of the centre.

Greece’s Deputy Minister of Health and Social Solidarity has assured UNHCR that all the unaccompanied children at Pagani will be transferred to special reception facilities by the end of the month, and some measures have already been taken.

Mr. Mahecic noted that the situation in Pagani is “indicative of broader problems relating to irregular migration and Greece’s asylum system,” which UNHCR has been trying to assist with.

Last year, it worked with Greek officials to elaborate proposals to completely overhaul the country’s asylum system, including specific measures to protect asylum-seeking children, but these have yet to be implemented.

The agency also pointed out that while nearly 2,700 unaccompanied children are known to have arrived in the country last year, many more are believed to have entered undetected.

“Greece has no process for assessing the individual needs and best interests of these children,” said Mr. Mahecic. “While the Government has made efforts to increase the number of places for children at specialized, open centres, arrivals outstrip these efforts and children remain in detention for long periods.”

The agency is involved in a project aimed at improving reception facilities on the islands of Samos, Chios and Lesvos and at the Evros land border, he added.

 

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