Unaccompanied minors in Greece

One of the most important issues when working with unaccompanied minors is to provide them with a sense of being and a sense of belonging. Unaccompanied minors are uprooted and traumatized individuals who haven’t undergone the standard steps of socializing and formulating their childhood. All cases, every single minor is a story of a person who has undertaken responsibilities – a heavy burden on tiny shoulders, and has gone through the procedure of a rough journey exposed to many dangers, exploitation and trauma. So, providing the minors with a safe, secure, caring and supporting environment is an imperative necessity and top priority. During the summer of 2016, a big group of unaccompanied minors, coming from very poor living conditions, was hosted at STEGI PLUS (+) Accommodation Centre in Athens. These children had entered Greece (Lesbos) in April and went through hardships up to July when were referred to STEGI PLUS (+) Centre. Apart from the obvious difficulties and hardships those children brought from their countries of origin (in particular Afghanistan and Syria), they were also faced with tough conditions after reaching the island. Detention conditions were described as tough; with quite often inadequate meals and little portions; misinformation regarding the day of their departure from the island (something that constituted their unique goal). Refugees tried to intensify pressure to the Greek authorities and that resulted in uprising within KEPY premises. This led PRAKSIS, which has a constant presence in the KEPY, in collaboration with other organisations, to manage a camp exclusively for unaccompanied minors in the area of Moria in order to protect this vulnerable population group.When these children were referred to the Accommodation Centre in July 2016, they brought with them a dynamic that would inevitably change the very own dynamic of the Centre. Challenging behaviour was observed. The profiles of the minors were complex ones. Some of the factors composing these complex profiles were the war in the country of origin; doubts and concerns about whether relatives were alive; the great pressure during their journey; the conditions during that journey; intensity during their passage to Greece; poor living conditions and accumulated pressure. There were frequent violations of the Rules of Operation at the Centre which reached the point of refusal of cooperation with their case handlers.

Working with a group of children with such characteristics meant that the staff would have to be ready to act in a way that was not only a challenge but also a new situation. It was not an incident of just a minor. It was an issue of group management of these complexes. Time and space had to be given to make these minors feel safe again. Their requests, stories and fears needed to be heard. We had to show them, with consistency and consistence, that our words would turn indeed into concrete actions and to gradually build a good and solid relationship among each other. Apart from the basic services provided (psychosocial support, legal counseling, interpretation etc.) personalized care and activities were included in the daily schedule. In order to co accomplish this, we cooperated effectively with the Municipality so as to use a football and basketball court certain days a week, as well as the daily use of a swimming pool and gym as we have found that nonverbal communication and active sports are a successful means to relief from tension and to bond with other people. Moreover, there were courses provided to the minors (language, music, painting etc.). The variety of services provided along with the constant guidance of the personnel, the focus of the regulatory framework and the group and personalized programme of the activities were catalytic factors in the management of a team with great challenges but also with great potential.