The proceeding started on December 24, invoking art. 39 – Interim Measures – of the Rules of procedure at the European Court. For the first time it focuses on the living conditions of unaccompanied minors (UAM) living on Samos: the Greek government must now transfer them to an appropriate shelter for unaccompanied minors, in compliance with art. 3 of the European convention of Human Rights, which enshrines the prohibition of torture and degrading treatment. Indeed, the associations involved denounce the continuing inhuman situation in which the UAM live on the island of Samos, with devastating physical and psychological consequences: the long permanence in the Reception and Identification Centre (RIC) and in the unauthorized camp represents a real risk of fatal damage for the lives of these children. At the moment, 7.497 people are acknowledged to live there, in a space built for 648. Children and teenagers are exposed to violence every day: fights, tension and riots frequently happen in the hotspot, with a concrete danger of exploitation and abuse. The so-called “Minor Section” inside the RIC of Samos is totally inadequate too: in spite of the presence of the police at the entrance, adults can easily access the area. Stress, anxiety, despair and a sense of humiliation with traumatic consequences are a few among the deleterious effects experienced by these children due to their forced and prolonged permanence. «We are incredibly thankful to the Court for granting the interim measures, while we wait for the Court ruling. For years thousands of minors have lived in such horrifying and illegal conditions in the hotspot in Samos», says Giulia Cicoli, co-founder of Still I Rise. «We all are incredibly happy for these five boys, who will have to be moved to an adequate centre for minors, but there are more than 400 children here who live in the same conditions and about 2000 on the five Greek islands. The time has come for other European States to play their part and voluntarily take in these children and teenagers. What kind of Europe would we be otherwise?”
COMPLAINT TO THE EUROPEAN COURT OF HUMAN RIGHTS
The five Afghan UAM, aged 15 to 16 years old, give witnesses which portray a scenery of continuous deprivation of their fundamental rights, starting from the failure to issue a legal guardian – an essential person to grant UAM's rights and to follow their bureaucratic procedures both for transfer to the mainland and for family reunification. UAMs declared that they have been in the RIC or in the so called 'jungle' for a time varying from 3 to 11 months and denounce that food distribution is totally inadequate, as access to hygienic structures, healthcare, and psychosocial services. In three cases out of five, Samos Asylum Office has scheduled their first interview for asyluum application in 2022, three years after the first registration. Moreover, in two cases the authorities misreported the minors' birth year: one of them was therefore initially categorized as an adult. When they arrived on the island, none of these children has received an accommodation. Four out of five had to live in the unauthorized camp for a variable time between 1 and 3 months before receiving a makeshift shelter inside the RIC, while one of them still lives in the 'jungle' in summer tents without any protection against the cold and the weather: when it rains, tents and shelters are flooded with water and mud. Inside the camp containers are overcrowded and in demeaning conditions: UAMs often must sleep in shifts or two in a single bed, sometimes on the floor, without bedsheets, blankets or pillows. Hygienic structures are absolutely inadequate, only one structure in the whole “Minor section” provides hot water, no personal hygiene product is distributed and clothing is totally inadequate to face the winter season. In addition, UAMs report rats, snakes, bugs and trash everywhere: due to the difficult life conditions skin diseases are an everyday issue, but access to medical and psychosocial services is limited. None of these teenagers has access to formal education or recreational activities. Safety is also lacking: children are constantly exposed to violence and adults keep entering their section in the RIC. Moreover, when the massive fire broke out in the hotspot on October 14, 2019 the police did not take action to protect UAMs, neither did they inform the minors of any evacuation plan: on the contrary, the entrance of the “Minor section” was locked, and the minors had to escape the flames through makeshift passages in the surrounding enclosure net. The minors living in Samos feel totally abandoned by the authorities and lacking any form of protection.
STILL I RISE ACTIONS FOR THE PROTECTION OF UNACCOMPANIED MINORS
Still I Rise is an international non-governmental organization founded in 2018: our primary goal is to provide informal education and protection to refugee children. Working near the hotspot of Samos, Greece, since its constitution Still I Rise has provided informal education to 1500 vulnerable children in the Mazí youth centre for refugee children living on the island. From the daily witnesses of abuse in the camp received from the children, collected in the last two years, on June 6, 2019 Still I Rise filed a criminal complaint against the management of the RIC with the public prosecutor of Samos, to condemn the violations of human rights of the UAMs living in the hotspot. The same complaint has been filed with the public prosecutor in Rome on June 19, 2019. The cause has reached the European Parliament with two Parliamentary questions, the first signed by Pietro Bartolo – Vice-Chairman of the LIBE Commission at the European Union, and the second one signed by Rosa D'Amato, Laura Ferrara and Isabella Andinolfi. Another Parliamentary question has been put forward to the Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Italian government by Angela Schirò and Lia Quartapelle Procopio.
Still I Rise is proactive in the protection and in defending the rights of unaccompanied children on the island.