Refugee and migrant children in Greece are being held in police cells, often in “poor and degrading conditions” due to a lack of appropriate shelter space, Human Rights Watch said in a report published Friday.
The US-based rights group said it urged the Greek government to stop using police buildings as protection sites for unaccompanied minors.
“Human Rights Watch found that many children face degrading conditions in police station cells and in coast guard facilities, and unsanitary conditions in pre-removal detention centers,” the 17-page report said.
“Children were made to live and sleep in dirty, bug- and vermin-infested cells, sometimes without mattresses, and were deprived of appropriate sanitation, hygiene and privacy.”
The revelations were published as leaders from Mediterranean countries in the European Union were due in Athens for talks largely focused on Europe’s refugee crisis.
More than a million refugees and migrants have traveled through Greece since the start of 2015. And some 60,000 have been stranded here since European border controls were toughened in March.
While most children travel with relatives, 3,300 unaccompanied minors arrived here in the first seven months of 2016, according to Greek authorities. Several hundred of them are in police stations and detention camps.
“Clearly a police station is no place to house children … (but in some cases) there was no other way to guarantee that the children would be safe,” Giorgos Kyritsis, a spokesman for a government crisis committee on migration, told The Associated Press.
He said plans to build additional shelter places should see the problem resolved in the next two months.
HRW interviewed 42 children from Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and four other countries _ all males aged between 14 and 17 _ at four sites in northern Greece and outside Athens.
Rebecca Riddell, Europe and central Asia fellow at HRW and the report’s lead researcher, said rights groups have been raising the issue with Athens for years.
“This is not a new problem, though the problem has been made more acute by significant migration to Greece and callous inaction by EU countries,” she told the AP.
“The children we interviewed had been detailed for an average of 40 days. That’s a far cry from keeping a child at a police station overnight and transferring him to a shelter in the morning.”