EU Court Rules Greece Can’t Lock Up Unaccompanied Migrants

FILE - In this Wednesday, May, 2, 2018, file photo, children play inside the Moria refugee camp on the northeastern Aegean island of Lesbos, Greece (AP Photo/Petros Giannakouris, File).

After Greece ignored an earlier ruling, the European Court of Human Rights said for a second time that the country must stop a policy of detaining unaccompanied migrant and asylum-seeking children in police cells under the so-called “protective custody” regime, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said after decrying the practice.

The group said that as of  May 31, there were still 123 unaccompanied children in police station cells or immigrant detention centers across the country, a jump of 43 from March when the court first ordered the practice to stop.

There was no indication how the rulings would be enforced if the government keeps ignoring them despite evidence showing, said HRW, that the children were victims of a clearly abusive policy.

The group said the detained children 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 serious long-term impacts, including anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, memory loss, and harm to children’s development, HRW said.

Some 20 human rights and activist groups have ripped the government for conditions in detention centers and camps housing some 70,000 refugees and migrants, including more than 15,000 on islands near Turkey, which allows human traffickers to keep sending them during a largely suspended swap deal with the European Union.

The EU closed its borders to the refugees and migrants and reneged on promises to have countries take some of the overload from Greece, stuck with the problem during a more than nine-year-long economic crisis.

The detention is especially tough on minors, especially those without parents or adults, said HRW, which said the children, who may have suffered war zone scenes in places such as Syria, are often unable to receive medical treatment, psychological counselling, or legal aid or understand why they’re locked up.

HRW said the government “should respond to the ruling by immediately transferring all kids now in police custody to open and safe accommodation. Greece should also work to increase its shelter capacity, find alternatives to detention, and implement a comprehensive foster family system introduced in 2018, which would also benefit Greek children.”

But the call comes three weeks before a July 7 snap election with surveys showing the major opposition New Democracy – whose earlier regime cracked down on migrants and ordered them deported wholesale – is on a course to take power from the Radical Left SYRIZA of Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, who had said he was very “proud” of conditions in which refugees and migrants were being kept.