Unaccompanied children line up for an evening meal at a detention facility run by the Greek police.
 

© 2015 Kelly Lynn Lunde

This week, the European Court of Human Rights ruled for the second time in four months against Greece’s abusive practice of locking up unaccompanied migrant and asylum-seeking children in police cells under the so-called “protective custody” regime.

The problem seems to be getting worse. As of May 31, 123 unaccompanied children were still detained in police station cells or immigrant detention centers across the country. That’s 43 more kids than were being detained at the end of March, just as the court first ruled against the practice.

Human Rights Watch has found that detained children are forced to live in unsanitary conditions, often alongside adults they do not know, and can be abused and ill-treated by police. Detention can also have serious long-term impacts, including anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, memory loss, and harm to children’s development.

To make things worse, because they are in detention, these kids – who may have suffered horrific experiences while escaping from war zones – are often unable to receive medical treatment, psychological counselling, or legal aid. Few even know why they’re detained or how long they will be behind bars.

The latest ruling concerns five unaccompanied children from Afghanistan, aged between 14 and 17, who first applied to the European Court in 2016. The court ruled that the detention in police stations of three of the children violated their right to liberty, and that conditions there exposed them to degrading treatment. The court also held that the authorities had not done all that could reasonably be expected of them to provide for and protect four of the children, who had lived for a month in the makeshift Idomeni refugee camp in an environment unsuitable for adolescents.

The Greek government should respond to the ruling by immediately transferring all kids now in police custody to open and safe accommodation. Greece should also work to increase its shelter capacity, find alternatives to detention, and implement a comprehensive foster family system introduced in 2018, which would also benefit Greek children.

Unaccompanied kids in Greece should not have to spend another day locked up in filthy police cells.