‘Day by day they lost their minds’ – unaccompanied refugee children in Greece

Refugee children UNICEF works with are being driven to self-harm.

Over one thousand unaccompanied refugee children are staying in dangerous and overcrowded Reception Centres on the Greek islands, and in detention facilities across Greece. They can’t bring themselves to tell their parents about their situation, but they did tell UNICEF.

At more than 1,100, this is the largest number of children who have stayed at the reception centres since the beginning of 2016.

UNICEF wants European Member States to increase relocation and family reunification in order to deal with the backlog. This would help prevent vulnerable children getting stuck in a system that was meant to be temporary.

The Reception Centre in Moria is meant to accommodate 3,000 people, but currently has more than 8,700, including 3,000 children. ‘Section B’, has room for 160 unaccompanied children, but has 520.

To highlight the situation, we made a short film reporting the dreams and despair of boys staying in ‘Section B’ on Lesvos. This centre is meant to provide specialised protection for unaccompanied children.

Despite the difficult conditions they find themselves in, these young people are looking to the future.

“I couldn’t study because there was no security, the situation forced me to leave the country,” says 16-year-old Morteza* from Afghanistan, one of four boys featured in the new film. “I think day by day they lost their minds,” he says about other boys in ‘Section B’. “Because of that, sometimes they cut their hands. I don’t want to be like that.”

High numbers

Currently, there are more than 32,000 refugee and migrant children in Greece, including more than 4,000 who are unaccompanied and separated. Over the last three years, UNICEF has supported more than 60,000 refugee and migrant children and their families in Greece. This work includes ensuring children have access to vital child protection services, including psychosocial support, health care and education.

Read more about UNICEF’s call for European Member States to increase relocation and family reunification here.

Read more about our work to support all refugee and migrant children uprooted from their homes here.


*Name changed to guarantee protection.

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