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The rights of migrant children in Greece: the landmark decision of the European Committee of Social Rights

Publication Date: 

On the 12 July 2021, the European Committee of Social Rights (ECSR) published its decision on the collective complaint brought by the ICJ and ECRE with the support of the Greek Council of Refugees (ICJ and ECRE v Greece) about the treatment of migrant children in Greece.

The ECSR stated that Greece violated a number of provisions of the European Social Charter, which is binding on the States party to it, regarding accommodation, guardianship, detention, health, access to education, special protection against physical and moral dangers. 

In particular, the Committee considers that the fact that some refugee and asylum-seeking unaccompanied children may remain for lengthy periods of time in this type of temporary accommodation facilities (emergency hotels and Safe zones) does not satisfy the requirements of long-term accommodation suited to their specific circumstances, needs and extreme vulnerability. These facilities do not offer the quality standards necessary for the long-term accommodation of unaccompanied children (§ 145). It also considers that accommodating such children in reception centres or hotels, particularly if it is for long periods of time (i.e. for weeks or even months) and without age-appropriate services, cannot be considered to fulfil the best interests of the child and is contrary to the Charter (§ 161). The resort to detention of unaccompanied migrant children has been a consistent practice in Greece and stems from the shortage of accommodation places for such children. This type of detention is not subject to a maximum time limit and no assessment of the best interests of the child takes place before or during detention, in violation of the Charter. 

Morevoer, the guardianship system for unaccompanied children is not effective in Greece, due to the delays in the implementation of the new law on guardanship.

Regarding access to the education, the Committee states that the non-formal education arrangements provided by non-state actors (e.g. NGOs) cannot be a substitute to the integration of migrant children in the public education system, regardless of the duration of the stay of those children on the islands. In fact, access to formal education is crucial for vulnerable children such as those concerned by the complaint, who may stay for months in poor living conditions on the reception centres located on the islands.

Finallly, the Committee holds that Greece violated the Charter also by failing to provide appropriate accommodation and sufficient health care to accompanied and unaccompanied migrant children on the islands, and appropriate shelter to unaccompanied migrant children on the mainland, with the result that some of these children are forced to live on the streets or are held in detention under “protective custody”. 

For more information, see the joint statement from ICJ, ECRE and GCR on the decision.