Greece’s HOME Project Raises Refugee Kids’ Plight in US

HOME Project Executive Director Sofia Kouvelaki (R) speaking to the US Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, Washington DC, Jan. 2018

Greek campaigners have taken harrowing evidence of the suffering endured by lone migrant and refugee minors all the way to Washington D.C.

This week, the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, more often known as the Helsinki U.S. Committee, heard testimony from the HOME Project, an NGO which helps unaccompanied minors in Athens.

The Organization is primarily funded by its founding sponsor, the Libra Group.

HOME Project Executive Director Sofia Kouvelaki illustrated the group’s work, explaining how its network of 10 shelters in the Greek capital helps male and female minors aged three to almost 18.

It’s “integration model” offers children their basic needs plus legal protection and skills training to help these minors eventually settle into Greek society, if they are not reunited with their families elsewhere.

Young refugees at the Home Project facilities

The committee also heard how this holistic approach also extends to how the project is run, with 50 percent of staff being migrants themselves and 50 percent being young Greek people, a section of society hit hard by the country’s economic crisis.

However, it was Kouvelaki’s account of two Syrian brothers helped by the HOME Project which vividly illustrated the group’s work.

The 10- and 11-year-old boys came to Greece following repeated attempts to flee Syria after their parents and three sisters were forced to go to Germany.

The pair tried to flee the country after moving from Aleppo to Damascus and witnessing extreme violence, including bombings and beheadings.

On their way to Greece they were abused by people traffickers and spent time at a Turkish refugee camp where they faced more violence, before eventually landing on Chios.

However, they were housed in a camp alongside adults in poor conditions, eventually leading the younger of the two brothers to attempt suicide by hanging. Now in Athens, the are being supported by the HOME Project.

2016 migration deal

Kouvelaki also revealed how the March 2016 EU-Turkey migration deal had effectively trapped many unaccompanied minors who were now unable to move onwards to other European countries. The existing refugee and migrant accommodation in Greece, on its islands and mainland, was now at capacity, with some children still being held in police custody.

Her testimony echoed that of Human Rights Watch (HRW) which on Tuesday said a pledge by Athens to make sure no children were being held in police custody or similar detention had not been met, and claimed over 50 unaccompanied minors were still in unsuitable places as of late December.

This “protective custody” often means police cells or immigrant centers.

HRW said its findings showed 54 children “live in unsanitary conditions, often with unrelated adults, and can be subject to abuse and ill-treatment by police”.

Speaking alongside Kouvelaki was Kathleen Newland of the Migration Policy Institute who told to committee how the “overwhelming majority” of unaccompanied minors were males aged around 16 to 17 years old.

She said this group – young males almost of adult age – were not seen sympathetically by the general public, but were nevertheless among the most vulnerable as they faced forcible recruitment into armed groups in war-torn countries like Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan.

She also revealed that less than half of the EU’s 28 members offered healthcare and education to undocumented minors who were at the “bottom of the hierarchy” of refugees and migrants.