Undocumented children, children in danger. Until when…?
The recent case of Saidou, a young refugee from Guinea, has starkly illustrated the problem
of unaccompanied children who, despite being in the country under the care of the State, lack
a long-term legal protection framework.
This case has shed light on the systemic lack of a protection regime that ensures unhindered
access to all children’s rights such as housing, education, health, and equal treatment. The
risk of unaccompanied children being deprived of their rights increases immediately after they
reach adulthood, when the possibility of deportation from the country looms.
In Saidou’s case, after the intense mobilisation of the education community and wider society,
a solution was found for his legal residence through the granting of asylum. However, other
unaccompanied children are – and will be – in a similar legal limbo, either before or
immediately after they reach adulthood. Recently, similar cases have come to light, such as
those of Kouros in Mytilini, young Cissé in Samos, Salman in Athens, Hemin, Doaa and
Rahma – brothers from Iraq – in Vyronas, and many others that may not be known.
Considering that this problem makes unaccompanied children vulnerable to violence and
exploitation, civil society organisations call for the granting of a special residence permit to
unaccompanied children, until at least the age of 21.
Since the increased arrivals of refugees in 2015, many children have been found in Greece,
not accompanied by their parents or an adult who is legally responsible for their care. The
Greek state, in accordance with both national legislation and international conventions, has
the obligation and duty to ensure the best interest of unaccompanied children, by ensuring
theirsafe accommodation, education and access to health care services.
With few exceptions, in Greece, the only way to ensure unaccompanied children’s protection
is by providing them with legal documents through the granting of asylum. However, the
majority of unaccompanied children’s asylum applications are rejected either in first or in
As a result, these children – even those in state accommodation by decision who attend public
education and thus develop a certain degree of personal attachment to Greece – end up
without the necessary legal documents.
Until very recently, this legal “gap” could (though rarely) be filled by granting a residence
permit on humanitarian grounds. But even this option was difficult to implement and was
abolished in 2020, exacerbating the problem.
The negative effects of this issue are visible not only in the daily lives of children and those
who assist them, but also in society in general, as the framework for their protection and
integration shrinks. The lack of legal documents makes it more difficult for children to access
education, health care, employment and daily activities. The exclusion of unaccompanied
children from society by the institutional framework itself, leads to their marginalisation.
We, the representatives of civil society organisations, bearing in mind both the extent of the
challenge and the successful handling of the issue in other EU countries (as Italy has already
done since 2017 and Spain since 2021), call on the Greek State to establish a special
residence permit until the completion of the 21st year of age – along with the right to
international protection – for unaccompanied children, including those who reach adulthood.
The granting of a special residence permit is necessary to ensure a minimum protection
framework for the rights of unaccompanied children, in line both with recent announcements
by many institutional actors and the policies set out in the National Strategy for the Protection
of Unaccompanied Minors. In any case, these children constitute an important social capital
for the country, as they participate in the education process and have developed links with
society. The risk of their marginalisation and removal due to the lack of legal documents
cancels out the above positive actions of the Greek State.
Taking positive action to ensure the best interests of every child is an obligation of the State.
The example of Saidοu should be the norm and pave the way for the effective protection of all
unaccompanied children, including those who reach adulthood during their stay in the
An online discussion on this specific issue will take place on Tuesday, 12 July 2022 at 3pm,
which we invite you to attend.
Civil society organisations:
- Action for Education,
- ARSIS Association for the Social Support of Youth / Άρσις Κοινωνική Οργάνωση για
την Υποστήριξη των Νέων,
- Better Days Greece,
- Changemakers Lab,
- Diotima Centre for Gender Rights and Equality / Διοτίμα Κέντρο για τα Έμφυλα
Δικαιώματα και την Ισότητα,
- Danish Refugee Council / Δανικό Συμβούλιο για τους Πρόσφυγες,
- Generation 2.0 RED,
- Glocal Roots,
- Greek Council for Refugees / Ελληνικό Συμβούλιο για τους Πρόσφυγες,
- Greek Forum of Refugees / Ελληνικό Φόρουμ Μεταναστών,
- European Lawyers in Lesvos (ELIL),
- Faros / Φάρος,
- Fenix Humanitarian Legal Aid,
- Human Rights Legal Project,
- International Rescue Committee (IRC) Hellas,
- Intersos Hellas,
- Irida Women’s Center / Ίριδα Κέντρο Γυναικών,
- I HAVE RIGHTS,
- Jesuit Refugee Service Greece,
- Legal Centre Lesvos,
- Lighthouse Relief,
- Mobile Info Team,
- Northern Lights Aid (NLA),
- Refugee Legal Support,
- Safe Passage International,
- Still I Rise,
- Symbiosis – School of Political Studies in Greece, Council of Europe Network /
Συμβίωση, Σχολή Πολιτικών Σπουδών στην Ελλάδα, Δίκτυο Συμβουλίου της
- Terre des hommes Hellas,
- The HOME Project,
- ΑΝΤΙΓΟΝΗ – Κέντρο Πληροφόρησης και Τεκμηρίωσης για το Ρατσισμό, την
Οικολογία, την Ειρήνη και τη Μη Βία / ANTIGONE – Information and Documentation
Centre on Racism, Ecology, Peace and Non Violence,
- Δίκτυο για τα Δικαιώματα του Παιδιού / Network for Children’s Rights,
- ΕΛΙΞ-Προγράμματα Εθελοντικής Εργασίας,
- Κάριτας Ελλάς / Caritas Hellas,
- Κέντρο Ημέρας Βαβέλ,
- Οικολογική Κίνηση Θεσσαλονίκης / Ecological Movement of Thessaloniki,
- “Σχεδία” Κέντρο Παιδαγωγικής και Καλλιτεχνικής Επιμόρφωσης / Schedia,
- Υποστήριξη Προσφύγων στο Αιγαίο(RSA) / Refugee Support Aegean (RSA).
(EUROKINISSI/ΓΙΑΝΝΗΣ ΠΑΝΑΓΟΠΟΥΛΟΣ) photo:credit