In recent years there has been an increase in children migrating, both accompanied and unaccompanied, and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) estimate that in2021, 41% of people forcibly displaced worldwide were under 18 years of ageIn Greece, the Ministry of Migration and Asylum report that over 8,000 children lodged an application for international protection the same year, representing close to one-third of all applications.At the end of 2021, there were 2,217 unaccompanied children registered in Greece, though the true number of children arriving unaccompanied is difficult wrongfully registered as adults on arrival. This is not a new phenomenon, nor is Greece the only country where children experience this.The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) and international refugee law offer complementary forms of protection for asylum-seeking children, and the Council of Europe has underscored that children must be treated “as children first”.However, the 1951 Geneva Convention and the national asylum systems applying it do not always adequately account for the particularities of child applicants in practice.
In recognition of their particular vulnerability, unaccompanied minors are given special protection under European and Greek asylum law; however, many asylum-seeking children arriving on Lesvos have been wrongfully registered as adults and forced to navigate the asylum system as unrecognised minors. In response, Fenix has focused on those cases where a presumption of minority has not been applied and children remained registered as adults for months or even years. From daily living conditions and barriers to accessing education, to procedural roadblocks and delayed family reunification, the knock-on effects of wrongful registration inevitably touch almost every aspect of a child’s life, infringing on their fundamental rights as children and as asylum seekers. Age assessment procedures on Lesvos have also been plagued by a number of issues, suggesting that they were not designed with consideration for the best interests of the child.Ultimately, children have been denied their rights as minors and respective procedural guarantees, presenting perhaps one of the most significant protection issues in Greece.
This report aims to highlight some specific problems with the recognition and reception of unrecognised unaccompanied minors that Fenix has witnessed over the course of our work on Lesvos between 2019 and 2022. We will profile sample stories from four past clients throughout on an anonymous basis, whose asylum cases spanned several years during this period. In addition, we will highlight responses received to complaints submitted by Fenix to the Ombudsman, the Assistant Ombudsman for Children’s Rights, the Ombudsman for Human Rights, and to Frontex European Border and Coast Guard Agency (Frontex) on behalf of unrecognised unaccompanied minors. Finally, we offer our recommendations to improve current policy in this area, such that unaccompanied minors can realise their fundamental rights as children.