The criminal complaint launched by Still I Rise against the management of the RIC (Reception and Identification Centre) in Samos, Greece, has reached the European Parliament with two Parliamentary Questions requiring a written answer.
On July 22nd 2019, the Hon. Pietro Bartolo, Vice-Chairman of the LIBE Commission at the European Union, put forward the first Parliamentary Question (no. E-002345-19) to the European Commission. It is a strong request to take measures to ensure decent living conditions and genuine protection for unaccompanied minors in the Samos hotspot and to check whether the EU funds that Greece receives are being used in an efficient way. Two months later, three other Italian MEPs, Rosa d’Amato, Laura Ferrara, and Isabella Adinolfi, presented a second Parliamentary Question (no. E-002745/2019) asking for an explanation about the appalling living conditions in the Samos hotspot. These are two crucial steps to shed light on the ongoing unbearable situation particularly affecting unaccompanied minors.
ABOUT THE CRIMINAL COMPLAINT
In June 2019, Still I Rise filed a criminal complaint against the management of the hotspot on the island with the public prosecutor of Samos, Greece, and subsequently with the public prosecutor in Rome, to condemn human rights violations committed against the unaccompanied minors living in the camp. The addressees/recipients of the criminal complaint are Maria-Dimitra Nioutsikou, director of the Samos Reception and Identification Center; Andreas Gougoulis, General Secretary for Reception and Identification at the Greek Minister of Migration, and any other responsible person. It is the first time in the history of the Samos hotspot that an NGO takes action with a criminal complaint against the management of a system which has been abusing the weakest for too long. The lawsuit is built with the evidence provided by minors themselves within the last two years, together with written statements by Still I Rise staff members and volunteers, who are involved in the daily issues regarding child protection and informal education for minors living in the hotspot. Pictures, videos and testimonies describe a dramatic situation of psychological, physical and emotional abuse toward unaccompanied minors living in the camp: unintentional and deliberate brutality perpetrated by the police, violence, and overcrowded containers with degrading living conditions. Children live in camping tents in the winter cold and endure a lack of basic hygiene items, clothing, health care, and formal education. The lawsuit includes a case of forced separation of two unaccompanied brothers knowingly perpetrated by the camp authorities. According to the law, unaccompanied minors (UAMs) are not to live together with adult asylum seekers. For this reason, UAMs in the Samos hotspot are to live in a separate area, in which their safety and adequate living conditions should be guaranteed. In practice, adult men access the level constantly, providing drugs and alcohol to minors and often sleeping in the containers there. In addition, adults often enter these containers to steal mobile phones, money and any other items belonging to UAMs, including toilet paper, which is considered a luxury item. It should be noted that each container is designed to accommodate 8 people; however, more than 20 children regularly sleep in a single container. Within the UAM containers, the doors, windows, and toilets are broken. There is no electricity, the roofs leak and children are often forced to sleep on the floor, as there are not enough beds, mattresses or pillows. Hot water is non-existent and it is impossible to adequately clean oneself. At the moment the UAM 'protected' area, is a place of infections, with bugs and rats biting children at night. Minors do not feel protected and they often prefer sleeping in the “Jungle”, the surrounding forest, rather than remain in the UAM area. Unaccompanied minors are the most vulnerable people living in the camp and the management should be legally bounded to keep them safe while they stay in the camp; this fact is systematically ignored, causing inhumane living conditions and consequent cases of depression, self-endangering behaviour, long-lasting or permanent psychological damage and, in some occasions, suicide attempts. Since its establishment, Still I Rise has provided informal education for 1500 vulnerable children in Mazì, the only youth center for children aged 12-17 on the island. The lawsuit is a necessary act to preserve the psychological and physical safety of the children served by the NGO.
THE PARLIAMENTARY QUESTIONS WITH WRITTEN ANSWER
22 JULY 2019
PIETRO BARTOLO (S&D) – E-002345-19
Subject: Situation of children in the Samos hotspot
According to the criminal complaint submitted by the ‘Still I Rise’ organisation, there have been numerous and continued infringements of human rights to the detriment of unaccompanied minors in the Samos hotspot. The Samos hotspot is seriously overcrowded. Toilet facilities and the provision of basic necessities, such as food and medicines, are insufficient, with consequent health risks. In addition, the registration and age verification system, as well as the systems for protecting and safeguarding children from adults unknown to them, are inadequate. The complaint also refers to cases of violence against children, serious self-harm incidents and cases of unaccompanied foreign siblings and cousins being separated. Can the Commission therefore answer the following questions:
1. Is it aware of the situation in the Samos hotspot?
2. What measures will it take to ensure decent living conditions and genuine protection for unaccompanied minors in the Samos hotspot?
3. How does the Commission intend to check whether the EU funds that Greece is receiving are being used in an efficient way to improve reception conditions in hotspots such as the one in Samos?
12 SEPTEMBER 2019
ROSA D’AMATO, LAURA FERRARA, ISABELLA ADINOLFI (NI) - E-002745/2019
Subject: Samos hotspot
On Samos in Greece, an initial reception centre for migrants has become an overcrowded prison in which thousands of people, including a great many children, are trapped. The non-profit organisation Still I Rise, founded by Nicolò Govoni, is trying to restore the right to education, protection and safety to children and young people on Samos. There are around 3400 people in the hotspot, including a thousand children, whereas the facility was built to accommodate 650. Depending on the numbers of migrants arriving, there have been peak times when 5000 people were there. The entire facility is staffed by two doctors, and there are not enough toilets. On 11 June, Still I Rise filed a complaint with the Samos Public Prosecutor’s Office about the management of the island’s Reception and Identification Centre, condemning violations of the human rights of unaccompanied minors living in the camp(1). Will the Commission without delay, and at frequent intervals, monitor the management of the hotspots? Will the Commission check whether the principles laid down in the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union are being complied with in the hotspots, and what action will it take, with due regard for the principle of subsidiarity, to solve the problems reported by the non-profit organisation?