Number of Refugee, Migrant Minors in Greece Seeking Asylum Jumps

FILE - In this Friday, May 4, 2018 file photo migrants and refugees wait outside the European Asylum Support Service offices inside the camp of Moria on the northeastern Aegean island of Lesbos, Greece. (AP Photo/Petros Giannakouris, File)

With ongoing complaints from activists that unaccompanied minors are being routinely locked up in Greek jails, some 2,640 traveling without a parent or guardian sought asylum in Greece in 2018.

The European Union’s statistics agency Eurostat said that rose from 2,455 the year before, ranking Greece fourth in the bloc behind Germany, Italy and the United Kingdom in the numbers seeking sanctuary and protection, said Kathimerini.

In total in 2018, 19,700 asylum seekers applying for international protection in the EU were identified as unaccompanied minors, Eurostat reported a drop of a third compared to 2017 but up in Greece.

Unaccompanied minors accounted for 10 percent of all asylum applicants aged less than 18 at the EU level last year, the agency added. The vast majority of the applicants were boys, at 86 percent, and most of them were aged 16-17 while only 7 percent were aged 14 or less.

In Greece, 92.6 percent of unaccompanied minors who sought protection last year were boys, with 6.8 percent of those being aged below 14. Minors accounted for 12 percent of all the asylum applications made in Greece in 2018. Most of these applications were made by children from Pakistan and Afghanistan (30 percent each) and 14 percent were from Syria.

Earlier in March, the European Court of Human Rights said Greece’s practice of locking up unaccompanied migrant and asylum-seeking children in police cells and detention centers leads to serious rights abuses.

But despite that ruling, as of March 30, 82 unaccompanied children were still detained in so-called “protective custody,” held in police station cells or immigrant detention centers across the country.

Human Rights Watch said it found that detained children were are forced to live in unsanitary conditions, often alongside adults they do not know, and can be abused and ill-treated by police. Detention can also have a serious long-term impact on these children, including anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, memory loss, and harm to their development, the group said.