Legal representation of unaccompanied children

Greece

Country Report: Legal representation of unaccompanied children Last updated: 30/11/20

Author

Greek Council for Refugees Visit Website

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) or any other competent authority for the protection of unaccompanied and/or separated children.[1] The General Directorate of Social Solidarity of the Ministry of Labour, Social Security and Social Solidarity is 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.

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.[2] 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).[3] In addition, the law provides a best interest of the child determination procedure following the issuance of standard operational procedure to be issued.[4] 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.[5] Additionally, the law establishes the Department for the Protection of Unaccompanied Minors at EKKA, which will have the responsibility of guaranteeing safe accommodation for unaccompanied children and evaluating the quality of services provided in such accommodation.[6]

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).[7] By the end of May 2020 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.[8]  Greek Authorities have not complied with said Decision by the end of May 2020. 

There are still major issues that cause concern. Firstly, 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”,[9] 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.

Secondly, the housing situation has not improved, since the accommodation shelters are not enough. According to the official statistics of EKKA (National Center for Social Solidarity) as of 31 December 2019, there were 195 children in ‘protective custody’ which de facto amounts to detection and 1,045 in insecure housing conditions.[10]

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.[11]

Despite the welcome development of a new 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 the 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 to secondary legislation setting out age assessment procedures. [12]

According to the official statistics provided by the Asylum Service, during the year 2019, there were submitted 3,330 applications for international protection from unaccompanied minors, of which 3,056 from boys and 274 from girls.[13]

 


[1] Article 60(1) IPA.

[2] Article 16 L 4554/2018.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Article 21 L 4554/2018.

[5] Article 19 L 4554/2018.

[6] Article 27 L 4540/2018.

[7] 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.

[8] 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.

[9] 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).

[10] Situation Update: Unaccompanied Children (UAC) in Greece 31 December 2019, available at: https://data2.unhcr.org/en/documents/download/73385.

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

[12] 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.

[13] Information provided from the Asylum Service, 18th of February 2020.

 

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