BRUSSELS, Belgium – A top European Union official has said Greece must provide shelter for 1,500 unaccompanied refugee children, many of whom are held in squalid conditions.
European justice commissioner Vera Jourova told reporters on Monday after a visit to Athens that there are some 3,500 unaccompanied minors in Greece, including over 300 in closed reception centers and another 18 in police custody.
“We still need to create 1,500 places for unaccompanied minors, this is a matter of urgency,” media outlets quoted Jourova as saying
The New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) last week said refugee children were being held in “deplorable” conditions for over a month on average. The international rights body added that some children were locked up in police cells alongside adults for lack of space.
“This increases the risk of abuse and sexual violence and violates international and national laws requiring the separation of adults from children in detention,” the HRW said.
Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras at a news conference over the weekend said that while numbers were declining Europe must do more to resettle refugees.
The EU has said it would give Greece an additional 115 million euros (USD 129 million) to improve conditions in its refugee camps.
The Greek government says it will enroll some 18,000 refugee children in schools from the end of September.
Some 60,000 people are currently stuck in Greece after several European states further north shut their borders earlier this year.
Athens government is still struggling to cope with the refugee crisis despite a deal between the EU and Turkey designed to reduce the numbers of people crossing by boat to the Greek islands. The process of either returning them to Turkey, or moving them elsewhere in the EU, has virtually ground to a halt.
According to the UN refugee agency, some 204,000 refugees crossed the Mediterranean to Europe in the first half of 2016.
The number of the refugees who died at sea while trying to reach Europe since the beginning of this year has increased by some 50 percent compared to the same period in 2015, standing at over 3,000.
Europe is facing an unprecedented influx of refugees, most of whom are fleeing conflict-ridden zones in Africa and the Middle East, particularly Syria. The conflicts they are fleeing are usually instigated by the very same European and non-European countries they seek to finally settle in.