The law provides that, when applying the provisions on reception conditions, the competent authorities shall take into account the specific situation of vulnerable persons such as minors, unaccompanied or not, direct relatives of victims of shipwrecks (parents and siblings), disabled people, elderly people, pregnant women, single parents with minor children, persons with serious illnesses, persons with a cognitive or mental disability and persons who have been subjected to torture, rape or other serious forms of psychological, physical or sexual violence, victims of female genital mutilation and victims of human trafficking. The assessment of the vulnerability of persons entering irregularly into the territory takes place within the framework of the Reception and Identification Procedure and, since the entry into force of the IPA, on 1 January 2020 (and after with the new law 4939/2022 that abolished with its article 148 articles 1-112 and 114 of IPA), it is no longer connected to the assessment of the asylum application.
Under the reception and identification procedure, upon arrival, the Head of the RIC or of the Closed Control Centre ‘shall refer persons belonging to vulnerable groups to the competent social support and protection institution.’
However, shortages in the identification of vulnerabilities, together with a critical lack of suitable reception places for vulnerable applicants on the islands (see Types of Accommodation) prevents vulnerable persons from enjoying special reception conditions. A report published by MSF highlights alarming levels of mental health problems among asylum applicants on the Greek islands, including self-harming and suicidal acts among children. According to MSF, the indefinite detention, sense of limbo and systematic violence further traumatised people seeking protection. The ESTIA scheme on Samos, which had offered safe apartments to vulnerable applicants in the past, including victims of sexual and gender-based violence, was discontinued. Due to a lack of alternative accommodation, even sexually abused persons stayed in tents in a separate section of Vathy camp, where the alleged perpetrators also stayed. On Lesvos, following the closure of the Kara Tepe site, a model facility offering dignified accommodation in prefabricated containers, vulnerable persons were transferred to Mavrovouni tent camp. Owing to the reduced numbers of alternatives to camps on both islands, there are significant difficulties in finding dignified accommodation even for persons with serious health issues, as reported by MSF.
Reception of unaccompanied children
Following the establishment of the Special Secretary for the Protection of Unaccompanied Minors (SSPUM) under the MoMA in February 2020, the SSPUM has become the competent authority for the protection of UAM, including the accommodation of UAM.
Ongoing progress regarding the reception capacity for unaccompanied children: As of 1 January 2023, there were at least 2,624 unaccompanied and separated children in Greece and a total of 2,272 dedicated accommodation places in shelters and Semi-Independent Living (SILs) facilities, plus 240 places in urgent accommodation facilities. The latter have recently increased in number, due to the increasing housing needs of UAMs. They are located in a total of 6 Emergency Accommodation Structures operating under the responsibility of the International Organisation of Migration (IOM) with five of them located in the mainland (Athens and Thessaloniki) and one in Lesvos.
Moreover, in 2022, the National Emergency Response Mechanism launched in April 2021 with the aim to trace UAM in precarious conditions and provide them with access to necessary protection, managed to identify and accommodate approximately 3,000 children who were living in precarious conditions or were homeless The number may provide an indication of the ongoing level of needs, since relative data on the number of UAM estimated to be living in insecure and/or precarious conditions have stopped being issued. From the beginning of the war in Ukraine until 30 November 2022, the National Emergency Response Mechanism received 515 referrals for separated and unaccompanied children from Ukraine.
The National Mechanism is operated by the SSPUM, in collaboration with UNHCR (expert support) and NGOs Arsis, METAdrasi and the Network for Children’s Rights (operational/field support). The Mechanism also includes a 24/7 telephone hotline for identifying and tracing children in need, which is available in six languages. The hotline provides guidance to children, citizens, local and public authorities on steps and actions to be taken from the point of identification of an unaccompanied child until his/her timely inclusion in emergency accommodation.
The total number of referrals of unaccompanied children received by SSPUM in 2022 was 6,383. marking a 34% increase compared to the same period in 2021 (4,748). At the same time, the number of accommodation spaces, specifically designated for unaccompanied minors was slightly increased, reaching a total of 2,511 places by the end 2022, as opposed to 2,478 by the end of 2021.  Of these, roughly 90.5% (2,271) concerned long-term accommodation (including SILs), while the rest (240) concerned temporary/emergency accommodation under the relevant mechanism established by the MoMA in April 2021. Based on updates by EKKA, by the year’s end the majority of referrals regarded UAM from Afghanistan, Pakistan and Syria.
In December 2022, the average waiting period for the placement of unaccompanied minors residing in island RICs to suitable accommodation places for UAMs was 13.77 days, marking almost a seven-day increase compared to 2021 (7.4 days). The relevant period for UAM in “protective custody” or in the RIC of Fylakio, Evros, was 6.5 days, marking a two-day increase compared to 2021 (4.7 days), albeit the average time of placement for UAM specifically in “protective custody” was 2.5 days. Lastly, the average time for the placement of UAM in a shelter was 6.5 days, similarly marking a slightly more than a two-day increase, compared to 2021 (4.1 days). In all cases, despite the increases in average placement times, which could potentially be attributed to the increase in UAM referrals throughout 2022 (34.4%), the SSPUM’s data seem to re-affirm improvements in this field if compared to previous years, which should continue to ensure that all UAM have timely access to suitable reception.
Of the total UAM referred, 5,729 were boys, in most cases older than 12 (98.4%), while 654 were girls, in most cases similarly older than 12 (92.5%).
|Q 2022||No. of referrals for accommodation||% of referrals addressed in the same Q||% of referrals addressed after the specific Q|
Source: Special Secretary for the Protection of Unaccompanied Minors. Data received on 16 February 2022.
Nevertheless, challenges remained regarding the proper identification of UAM upon arrival, and as a consequence cases where UAM have been accommodated alongside the adult population continued to be observed in 2022, at least on the islands, amongst others due to the lack of specialised medical staff. Furthermore, as also highlighted by the aforementioned referral times, despite significant improvements following the legislative abolition of “protective custody” in 2020, UAM continued to be subject to detention/”protective custody” in 2022 as well.
The lack of appropriate care, including accommodation for unaccompanied children, in Greece has been repeatedly raised by human rights bodies. In 2019, in the context of his visit to the Lesvos, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees stated he was ‘very worried about children, especially children travelling alone…[who] are the most exposed to violence and exploitation”, while Human Rights Watch inter alia noted that “the lack of prompt transfers [from the islands] put vulnerable people, including people with invisible disabilities and children, at higher risk of abuse and violation of their rights’.
On 9 June 2022 the UN Child Rights Committee (CRC) issued its Concluding Observations on Greece, reviewed during its 90th session. The Committee raises serious concerns, among others, regarding the detention of children for identification purposes, inappropriate age determination procedures, the precarious living conditions in the RICs on the Aegean islands and a lack of access to food and healthcare.
In November 2018, ECRE and ICJ, with the support of GCR lodged a collective complaint before the European Committee for Social Rights of the Council of Europe with regards the situation of inter alia unaccompanied children in Greece. In response to the complaint, in May 2019, the Committee on Social Rights exceptionally decided to indicate immediate measures to Greece to protect the rights of migrant children and to prevent serious and irreparable injury or harm to the children concerned, including damage to their physical and mental health, and to their safety, by inter alia removing them from detention and from Reception and Identification Centres (RICs) at the borders.
Furthermore, in December 2019, in a case represented by GCR, in cooperation with ASGI, Still I Rise and Doctors Without Borders, the ECtHR, under Rule 39 of the Rules of Court, granted interim measures to five unaccompanied teenagers, asylum seekers, who had been living for many months in the Reception and Identification Centre (RIC) and in the “jungle” of Samos. The interim measures ordered the Greek authorities to arrange for their timely transfer to a centre for unaccompanied minors and to ensure that their reception conditions were compatible with Article 3 of the Convention (prohibition of torture and inhuman and degrading treatment) and the applicants’ particular status.
In March 2020, a number of EU Member States accepted to relocate about 1,600 unaccompanied children from Greece. Despite the fact that the number of children to be relocated remains significantly low, compared to the number of unaccompanied children present in Greece (3,776 children as of 15 April 2021), this is a welcome initiative and tangible display of responsibility sharing that facilitates UAM’s access to durable solutions.
The first relocation under the scheme took place on 15 April 2020, with the first 12 UAM being relocated from Greece to Luxemburg, after previously having stayed for months in the overcrowded, unsuitable and unsafe RICs of Lesvos, Samos, and Chios. As noted by the Regional Director of IOM at the time ‘[t]he importance of this crucial initiative is amplified now due to the challenges we are all facing from COVID-19. Relocation of vulnerable children especially at a time of heightened hardship, sends a strong message of European solidarity and we hope to see this expand soon’.
From April 2020 until December 2022, a total of 1,313 UAM had been relocated to other EU member states, most of them to Germany, France, Portugal and Finland. During 2022, a total of 113 UAMs were transferred on 13 flights to France and Portugal, while three flights to Portugal, with a total of 28 UAMs took place in December 2022. The relocation scheme has been extended in an attempt to meet the total number of pledges made by Member States. By January 2023, a total of 1,332 out of the 1,500 relocation pledges for UAM had been successfully implemented, primarily to France (501), Portugal (344), Germany (204) and Finland (111).
Types of accommodation for unaccompanied children
Out of the 2,511 total number of available places for unaccompanied children in Greece by the end of 2022 (i) 1,963 were in 70 shelters for unaccompanied children; (ii) 308 places were in 77 Supported Independent Living apartments (SILs) for unaccompanied children over the age of 16, and (iii) 240 places were in six temporary accommodation facilities operating under the National Emergency Response Mechanism (NERM).
Notwithstanding these, as reported by EKKA, out of the total estimated 2,624 UAM in Greece on 1 January 2023, 1,736 resided in shelters, 241 in SILs, 214 in temporary accommodation under the NERM, 389 in RICs and 44 in other camps, which in turn highlights a significant divergence between the available, dedicated places for UAM and those actually in use.
Shelters for unaccompanied children: long-term and short-term accommodation facilities for unaccompanied children (shelters) are managed primarily by civil society entities and charities as well as by and with the support of IOM.
|Shelters as of December 2022|
|Implementing Actor||No. of facilities||Total Capacity||Type of Accommodation|
|SMILE OF THE CHILD||1||10||Long-term|
Source: Information provided by SSPUM on 16 February 2023.
Supported Independent Living (SIL): “Supported Independent Living for unaccompanied minors” is an alternative housing arrangement for unaccompanied children aged 16 to 18 launched in 2018. The programme includes housing and a series of services (education, health etc.) and aims to enable the smooth coming of age and integration to Greek society.
|SILs as of December 2022|
|Implementing Actor||Capacity (each)||Capacity (total)|
Source: Information provided by SSPUM on 16 February 2023.
 Article 62 (1) Asylum Code in combination with article 1λγ΄ of the same law.
 Article 62 (2) Asylum Code, citing Article 41 of the same law.
 Article 40 Asylum Code.
 MSF, Constructing Crisis at Europe’s Borders: The EU plan to intensify its dangerous hotspot approach on Greek islands, June 2021, available at: https://bit.ly/3tVzwFg; FRA, Migration: Key fundamental rights concerns – Bulletin 2 – 2021, September 2021, available at: https://bit.ly/3LopAcY.
 Written reply by the SSPUM to GCR request for statistics on 16 February 2023.
 Written reply by the SSPUM to GCR request for statistics on 16 February 2023.
 UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, Concluding observations on the combined fourth to sixth reports of Greece, 28 June 2022, available at: http://bit.ly/3aZgiY1; and UN Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner, Press release ‘UN Child Rights Committee issues findings on Cambodia, Canada, Chile, Croatia, Cuba, Cyprus, Djibouti, Greece, Iceland, Kiribati, Somalia and Zambia’, 9 June 2022, available at: http://bit.ly/3OaDu42.
 European Committee of Social Rights, Decision on admissibility and on immediate measures in the case International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) and European Council for Refugees and Exiles (ECRE) v. Greece, Complaint No. 173/2018, 23 May 2019, available at: https://bit.ly/39clrGj.
 GCR, The European Court of Human Rights provides interim measures to unaccompanied minors living in the RIC and the ‘jungle’ of Samos island, 30 December 2019, available at: https://bit.ly/2GYQY2p.
 EU Commissioner for Home Affairs, Intervention (via video conference) in European Parliament LIBE Committee on the situation at the Union’s external borders in Greece, 2 April 2020, available at: https://bit.ly/3adzSKl.
 Special Secretary for the Protection of Unaccompanied Minors (SSPUM), Action Report 2022, available at: https://bit.ly/3IKZmCB, and MoMA, Press Release «Συνεχίζεται το Πρόγραμμα Εθελοντικής Μετεγκατάστασης – 1.313 ασυνόδευτα παιδιά έχουν μεταφερθεί σε άλλες χώρες κράτη-μέλη της ΕΕ», 20 December 2022, available at: https://bit.ly/3ILcbgn.
 SSPUM, data provided on 16 February 2023.