The Pulitzer Center articles paints a unique picture about the challenges unaccompanied refugee minors in Greece face, explaining how the system in place fails them and what can be done to improve the situation.
The article tells a story about 16-year-old Fayaz who is originally from Afghanistan, but has left the home when he was 12 hoping to escape difficult family situation and a political violence. His journey brought him to Greece, where he has been living since spring 2016. Since in Greece, he was a resident of many camps for UAM, mainly operated by NGOs and commonly known as RIC – reception and identification centers.
While he may have had high hopes upon the arrival, cruel reality takes a hold on young boy. According to the article “throughout this journey, many UAMs must navigate a system of fragmented services that, according to experts, typically do not address the emotional and psychological needs associated with the trauma of leaving home and trying to survive in a new country”.
The glass windows on the camps were replaced with plastic sheeting due to a large number of minors breaking the glass and harming themselves with the glass pieces. This results from the fact that most of the organizations and service providers focus on meeting basic needs of children, while failing to provide psychological and other support, including specialized counseling, language classes, job training. Feeling hopeless and depressed, some of them try to leave the country, becoming easy victims of smugglers or traffickers.
However, once they turn 18, now young adults they become the lowest priority for housing or any kind of aid among the humanitarian organizations, making the already difficult situation worse.
There are examples of initiatives that show how some of those issues can be addressed, “investment in better services and more staff at RICs can pay off. Research suggests that UAMs who develop strong, positive relationships with staff in camps and shelters are more likely to build resiliency in challenging circumstances” according to the article. As part of this initiative, each UAM is paired with a guardian from the network working with the NGO. They regularly meet with minors, often in casual settings, with an aim to establish strong relationship and be a reference point for the child – in case he/she has any problem or a question, the guardian should be the first person to refer to. This approach has already proven to be effective and could serve as an example for future initiatives.