Legal representation of unaccompanied children

Greece

Country Report: Legal representation of unaccompanied children Last updated: 10/06/21

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Under Greek law, any authority detecting the entry of an unaccompanied or separated child into the Greek territory shall take the appropriate measures to inform the closest Public Prosecutor’s office, the National Centre for Social Solidarity (Εθνικό Κέντρο Κοινωνικής Αλληλεγγύης, EKKA), the Special Secretariat for the Protection of Unaccompanied Minors or any other competent authority for the protection of unaccompanied and/or separated children[1]. According to IPA, before the amendment by L.4756/2020[2], the General Directorate of Social Solidarity of the Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs was responsible for further initiating and monitoring the procedure of appointing a guardian to the child and ensuring that his or her best interests are met at all times[3]. However, since the entry into force of L.4756/2020, the responsible authority for the procedure of guardianship of unaccompanied children is the Directorate for the Protection of the Child and the Family of the Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs in collaboration with the National Centre for Social Solidarity (EKKA) or other authorities[4].

L 4554/2018 introduced for the first time a regulatory framework for the guardianship of unaccompanied children in Greek law. According to the new law, a guardian will be appointed to a foreign or stateless person under the age of 18 who arrives in Greece without being accompanied by a relative or non-relative exercising parental guardianship or custody. The Public Prosecutor for Minors or the local competent Public Prosecutor, if no Public Prosecutor for minors exists, is considered as the temporary guardian of the unaccompanied minor. This responsibility includes, among others, the appointment of a permanent guardian of the minor.[5] The guardian of the minor is selected from a Registry of Guardians created under the National Centre for Social Solidarity (Εθνικό Κέντρο Κοινωνικής Αλληλεγγύης, EKKA).[6] Also, the law provides a best interest of the child determination procedure following the issuance of standard operational procedure to be issued.[7] The law also creates the Supervisory Guardianship Board, which will be responsible for ensuring legal protection for unaccompanied children with respect to disabilities, religious beliefs and custody issues.[8] Additionally, the law established the Department for the Protection of Unaccompanied Minors at EKKA, which had the responsibility of guaranteeing safe accommodation for unaccompanied children and evaluating the quality of services provided in such accommodation.[9] However, since the amendment of IPA by L.4686/2020 and later by L.4760/2020, the authority responsible for the accommodation of unaccompanied minors is the Special Secretariat for the Protection of Unaccompanied Minors of Ministry of Migration and Asylum[10].

Under Article 18 L 4554/2018, the guardian has responsibilities relevant to the integration of unaccompanied children, which include:

  • ensuring decent accommodation in special reception structures for unaccompanied children;
  • representing and assisting the child in all judicial and administrative procedures;
  • accompanying the child to clinics or hospitals;
  • guaranteeing that the child is safe during their stay in the country;
  • ensuring that legal assistance and interpretation services are provided to the child;
  • providing access to psychological support and health care when needed;
  • taking care of enrolling the child in formal or non-formal education;
  • taking necessary steps to assign custody of the child to an appropriate family (foster family), in accordance with the applicable legal provisions;
  • ensuring that the child’s political, philosophical and religious beliefs are respected and freely expressed and developed; and
  • behaving with sympathy and respect to the unaccompanied child.

In practice, the system of guardianship is still not operating. According to the initial version of L. 4554/2018 (Art. 32), the Guardianship Law should have entered into force at the time that the Ministerial Decision approving the Rules of Procedure of the Supervision Board provided by Art. 19(6) L. 4554/2018 would be issued. Following an amendment introduced in May 2019 (Art. 85(2) L. 4611/2019, Gov. Gazette Α 73/17.5.2019), the entry into force of L. 4554/2018 has been postponed until the 1st of September 2019. However, the entry into force of L. 4554/2018 has been further postponed until the 1st of March 2020 (Art. 73 (1) L. 4623/2019, Gov. Gazette Α 134/9.8.2019).[11] By the end of March 2021, the system was not in place.

In May 2019, the European Committee on Social Rights of the Council of Europe, following a collective complaint lodged by ECRE and ICJ, with the support of GCR, adopted its Decision on Immediate Measures, and indicated to the Greek Authorities, inter alia, to immediately appoint effective guardians.[12]  Greek Authorities have not complied with said Decision by the end of March 2021.

The fact that the public sector is severely untrained and understaffed hinders the situation even more. Especially, assigning this additional task of guardianship to prosecutors has proved to be disastrous over the years, especially given the number of prosecutors and their actual workload as prosecuting authorities.[13]

Several civil society organisations mention that[14] “Unaccompanied  children  are  not  immediately  appointed  a guardian for  the  purposes  of  reception  and  identification procedures. However, at different times in recent years, on the basis of a general authorisation of guardians coordinated by METAdrasi by public prosecutors, unaccompanied children on Lesvos, Chios, Leros and Kos have   been   able   to   be accompanied   by   guardians   during   the aforementioned procedure before Frontex. The presence of guardians has had visible impact on the transparency of the registration of the individuals’ personal details, including declared age”.

Despite the welcome development of the legal framework under L 4554/2018, the proper implementation of the guardianship system should be further monitored. The Greek Ombudsman noted in his Observations on the draft bill on Law 4636/2019 that there are several provisions, which may complicate the protection of migrant children and hinder the implementation of existing legislation. According to his report, there is a concerning lack of clarity in the definitions of unaccompanied and separated children, uncertainty over the competent services, and absence of any reference to the Guardianship Law 4554/2018 and secondary legislation setting out age assessment procedures [15]. Despite the fact that the new L. 4756/2020 amending IPA introduces a direct reference to the Guardianship Law 4554/2018 and includes more details on the responsibilities of the competent authorities, there are still several issues to be addressed.

In 2020 few steps have been made towards the improvement of the housing situation for unaccompanied minors. According to the Greek Authorities[16] “Due to the gradual transfer of UMs to facilities on the mainland that the Special Secretary had initiated, in August 2020 the total number of UMs at the islands was 830, while in November 2019 the said number was 1,746. Further coordinated steps led to an additional transfer of 733 UMs in September-October 2020 from RICs to facilities on the mainland. Ever since, the Accommodation Requests’ Managing Unit (within the Special Secretary for UMs) has been prioritizing the cases of UMs that are under precarious conditions and/or at the RICs; due to the above intensive efforts, on 23 February 2021 only 68 UMs were residing at RICs; the procedure for placement to an accommodation was pending for 19 out of those (conclusion of medical tests and coordination of their escort).” However, according to the official statistics of EKKA (National Center for Social Solidarity) as of 31 December 2020, there were 924 children in insecure housing conditions.[17]

It should also be acknowledged that the average waiting time for the placement of a UAM to a proper facility has decreased in 2020. According to the Special Secretariat for the Protection of Unaccompanied Minors, in December 2020, the average waiting time for the placement in an accommodation facility for unaccompanied minors was:

  • 2 days, for UAMs in “protective custody”
  • 4 days in Evros/Fylakio RIC
  • 2 days for UAMs residing at the RICs of the Eastern Aegean Islands. More precisely, for UAMs in “protective custody” the average waiting time was 1.9 days, which constitutes a great development[18].

Moreover, the Greek State, following a series of convictions by the European Court of Human Rights and being already under supervision for relevant decisions, proceeded to the deletion of article 118 of the Presidential Decree 141/1991, regarding “protective custody’ of unaccompanied minors, which de facto amounts to detection, and introduced a new provision with article 43 of Law 4760/2020[19], which was applied on 11 December 2020. According to the official statistics of EKKA (National Center for Social Solidarity) as of 31 December 2020, there were 30 children in ‘protective custody’, and 127 children in RICs.

Concerning the access of unaccompanied minors to the asylum procedure, contrary to the FRA’s opinion regarding the significant improvements in speeding up the registration of the asylum claim of unaccompanied minors in the “hotspots”,[20] the GCR’s findings show that there are massive delays in the registration on the mainland, especially for Pakistani and Bangladeshi minors, who can wait up to six months for an appointment in the RAOs of Athens and Piraeus.

According to the official statistics provided by the Asylum Service, during the year 2020, there were 2,799 applications for international protection from unaccompanied minors, of which 2,593 from boys and 206 from girls.[21]

 

 

 

[1] Article 60(1) IPA.

[2] L. 4756/2020, Gov. Gazette A’ 235/26-11-2020

[3] See Article 32(1) & (2) IPA and Article 60(3) IPA (before the entry into force of L.4686/2020), article 60(4) IPA (after the entry into force of L. 4686/2020).

[4]  Articles 13 and 14 L.4756/2020 amending respectively articles 32 and 60 IPA.

[5] Article 16 L 4554/2018.

[6]  Ibid.

[7]  Article 21 L 4554/2018.

[8]   Article 19 L 4554/2018.

[9]  Article 27 L 4554/2018.

[10]  The Special Secretariat for the Protection of Unaccompanied Minors was established with 1(3) of the Presidential Degree 18/2020.It operates according to Articles 35 and 42 L. 4622/2019 and reports directly to the Minister of Migration and Asylum, https://bit.ly/3fMN5jn. Article 32(4) IPA and Article 60(3) IPA.

[11] Response by the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) and European Council for Refugees and Exiles (ECRE) to the Observations of the Greek Government on the Merits of Collective Complaint 173/2018.

[12] European Committee on Social Rights, Decision on admissibility and on immediate measures, International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) and European Council for Refugees and Exiles (ECRE) v. Greece, Complaint No. 173/2018, 23 May 2019.

[13] Rosa Luxemburg Foundation, Children Cast Adrift: Exclusion and exploitation of unaccompanied minors (UAMs) in Greece (2019), available at: https://bit.ly/2y9sEd3.

[14] RSA and other civil society organisations, as above, p.24

[15] Response by the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) and European Council for Refugees and Exiles (ECRE) to the Observations of the Greek Government on the Merits of Collective Complaint 173/2018.

[16] SECRETARIAT OF THE COMMITTEE OF MINISTERS, DH-DD(2021)363, date 01/04/2021,  Communication    from the authorities (16/03/2021) concerning the cases of M.S.S. v. Belgium and Greece and RAHIMI v. Greece (Applications No. 30696/09, 8687/08), para. 12

[17] Situation Update: Unaccompanied Children (UAC) in Greece 31 December 2020, available at: https://bit.ly/2PZYAcH

[18]  Information provided by the Special Secretariat for the Protection of Unaccompanied Minors, 28 January 2021

[19] Law 4760/2020, Gov. Gazette 247/Α΄/11-12-2020

[20] FRA – Update of the 2016 Opinion of the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights on fundamental rights in the ‘hotspots’ set up in Greece and Italy (February 2019).

[21]  Information provided from the Asylum Service, 31 March 2021.

Table of contents

  • Statistics
  • Overview of the legal framework
  • Overview of the main changes since the previous report update
  • Asylum Procedure
  • Reception Conditions
  • Detention of Asylum Seekers
  • Content of International Protection
  • ANNEX I – Transposition of the CEAS in national legislation