(AFP) – Greece will need a year to provide adequate shelter for 2,200 unaccompanied migrant children on its soil, even if it has improved its response, the country’s migration minister said Tuesday.
Yannis Mouzalas said there were now no more than 25 minors held in Greek police stations and 1,000 hosted in various specialised facilities.
But most of the unaccompanied migrant children, some 1,200, are still staying in camps scattered across Greek islands in the eastern Aegean sea.
“It would be lying to say a solution will be found in under six months. We think a year is necessary,” Mouzalas said during the opening of shelter for 100 such children in Paiania, a suburb of Athens.
Five percent of 2,200 are under eight years old, while 80 percent are over 15.
The minister said the top priority was to provide “safe places” for the children where they enjoy a minimum of protection against threats such as traffickers, the minister said.
In September, the European Union and human rights organisations called on Greece to improve shelter for unaccompanied migrant childen, saying many were held in squalid conditions.
Also in September, the EU announced 115 million euros in extra funding for Greece’s response to migrants on its soil, following a damning report on conditions migrants face.
The new shelter in Paiania, which is jointly managed and funded by the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and the NGO Medecins du Monde, is supposed to serve as a model for future ones, with around 30 specialised staff and on site schooling.
Ministry official Alkis Souliotis said most of the minors want to leave the country, either because they have relatives who have already travelled on to elsewhere in Europe, or because they believe they will better integrate outside Greece with its high unemployment rate.
“Our job is to convince them to stay,” he added, noting that if the children moved on they ran the risk of falling victim to trafficking networks.
Local authorities are supporting the two organisations running the Paiania shelter, which for IOM’s Daniel Esdrass is important at a time when tensions between refugees and host communities are on the rise in Greece.
“We have to fight against the ‘not in my backyard’ syndrome,” he said.