Un­ac­com­pa­nied refugee mi­nors find a home away from home

Kathimerini English - - Focus - BY TA­NIA GEORGIOPOULOU

Next-door neigh­bor Ka­te­rina comes over to the house al­most ev­ery day to have a cof­fee in the gar­den and bring a “lit­tle some­thing for the kids.” The Hos­pi­tal­ity Cen­ter for Un­ac­com­pa­nied Mi­nors in the Athe­nian neigh­bor­hood of Ano Pe­tralona, which went into op­er­a­tion in late May, is cur­rently home to 18 chil­dren aged 13-17, and is a hub of so­cial ac­tiv­ity.

The hos­tel for young mi­grants who crossed Greek borders with­out a guardian is run by the non­govern­men­tal or­ga­ni­za­tion Prak­sis, which took on the re­spon­si­bil­ity of hous­ing dozens of young refugees from coun­tries in­clud­ing Syria, Afghanistan and Pak­istan who were be­ing held at mi­grant de­ten­tion cen­ters such as Amyg­daleza, north of Athens.

The de­ten­tion cen­ters were closed down by the then new gov­ern­ment as one of its first or­ders of busi­ness, cit­ing “in­hu­man” liv­ing con­di­tions. How­ever, one of the first is­sues then to rise was what was to hap­pen to the mi­nors. The gov­ern­ment was short of cash, prompt­ing Al­ter­nate Min­is­ter for Immigration Pol­icy Ta­sia Christodoulopoulou to reach out to the Lat­sis Foun­da­tion for help.

“Sur­pris­ingly fast for a public or­ga­ni­za­tion,” says Lat­sis Foun­da­tion Ex­ec­u­tive Board sec­re­tary Dim­itris Afendoulis, the min­istry and the foun­da­tion cre­ated the hos­tel, which can take in 24 guests at a time, in a house in Ano Pe­tralona within just a few months.

There are cur­rently 99 mi­nors still wait­ing to be placed in sim­i­lar fa­cil­i­ties, while author­i­ties es­ti­mate that some 2,500 chil­dren make their way through Greece alone ev­ery year.

“This cen­ter may pro­vide just a small amount of re­lief for the thou­sands of chil­dren wait­ing to find shel­ter in this coun­try but on a sym­bolic level it is an amaz­ing ini­tia­tive, par­tic­u­larly as it hap­pened thanks to fund­ing from a pri­vate foun­da­tion,” says Christodoulopoulou. “We have a fund­ing gap as far as Euro­pean Union funds are con­cerned and such ini­tia­tives con­trib­ute to so­cial sol­i­dar­ity and aware­ness.”

“Car­ing for and pro­tect­ing un­ac­com­pa­nied mi­nors brings to­gether all those peo­ple who have the ca­pa­bil­ity to con­trib­ute,” says Afendoulis, adding that the foun­da­tion has also un­der­taken to cover the hos­tel’s op­er­at­ing costs un­til EU fund­ing be­comes avail­able.

All of the chil­dren in the hos­tel are wait­ing to travel to other coun­tries in the Euro­pean Union where they have fam­ily wait­ing for them. This is a process that can take any­thing from a few weeks to sev­eral months. In the mean­time, the hos­tel is their home and they have the free­dom to come and go as long as they state where they are go­ing. If they do not re­turn within 24 hours, the cen­ter no­ti­fies the po­lice in a bid to en­sure that the chil­dren do not fall vic­tim to crim­i­nal gangs.

The cen­ter is a re­sponse to in­tol­er­ance, to the “mi­grants go home” at­ti­tude, says An­ty­pas Tzane­tos, pres­i­dent of the Prak­sis board. “It is a re­sponse with ac­tions, not words,” he adds.

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