(Thessaloniki, Greece) – Refugee camps in Greece as well as the actions of their Greek member “The Smile of the Child” for the refugees had the opportunity to visit representatives of Missing Children Europe and Child Helpline International in an effort to acquire a direct experience from the conditions on the ground and, mainly, the existing needs and gaps in the protection of refugee and migrant minors.
On the occasion of this visit, the President of “The Smile of the Child”, Costas Yannopoulos, the Head of International Cooperation of the Greek Organization, Ambassador Marc Van den Reeck, the Secretary General of Missing Children Europe, Delphine Moralis and the Executive Director of Child Helpline International, Sheila Donovan, met with the Secretary General of the Hellenic Ministry of Interior and Administrative Reconstruction, Mr. Tzanetos Filippakos and public officials of the Hellenic Police and discussed important aspects of the institutional cooperation required in the midst of the current migration crisis.
One day later, on 8 June, in Thessaloniki “The Smile of the Child” hosted a press briefing in the premises of its Centre of Direct Social Intervention and presented its actions to assist and protect refugee children, whereas the representatives of MCE and CHI presented to national media international data and aspects of the issue, which highlighted the international dimension of the problem and the need for closer coordination and cooperation.
Special emphasis was given to the need of awareness-raising on the existence of 116 000 and 116 111 child lines among the transit areas of migrants and refugees in an effort to encourage reporting in the case of a child disappearance and the sought of support and assistance.
As part of this effort “The Smile of the Child” is distributing informational material in 5 available languages, including Arabic and Farsi, encouraging people to call the European Hotline 116 000 and the European Helpline 116 111 operated in the country by the Greek Organization.
More specifically, from 29/2/2016 to 31/5/2016 “The Smile of the Child” has handled 59 calls on children at risk. In addition, “The Smile of the Child” has realized:
15.040 support actions with goods and food of first necessity
3.147 medical exams thanks to the contribution of 56 volunteer doctors
1.299 transfers of newborns and babies with Mobile Medical Units of Intensive Care
Support to 80 hospitalized children in Athens and Thessaloniki
Recreational activities to 1.674 children.
In the midst of the refugee crisis the goal of the Organization is to expand its actions for refugee and migrant minors always based upon and by promoting the cooperation with the competent institutions. For the time being, “The Smile of the Child” hopes to get support from international actors in order to continue its actions and expand its services. As highlighted during the press briefing “The Smile of the Child” remains committed to the mission, the vision and values of supporting all children in Greece, irrespective of nationality, country of origin or religion, maintaining, however, both the quantity and quality of its actions for all children in Greece, including in the region of Northern Greece.
The issue of unaccompanied minors in Europe was particularly pointed by Delphine Moralis, estimating that the number of 10.000 unaccompanied missing children recently announced by Europol is only a rough and optimistic estimation that does not reflect the real extent of the problem across the EU. The Secretary General of MCE emphasized the lack of training for authorities and professionals, the need to improve cooperation and coordination on a European scale and provide proper information among refugees and migrants.
“Children fall trough the gaps and go missing due to a lack of coordination at national and international level. A comprehensive approach is essential in preventing children from becoming exploited in the context of migration” Delphine Moralis said. Reference was also made to the changing forms of human smuggling and trafficking in refugee children with Delphine Moralis emphasizing the fact that smugglers are now functioning as traffickers as well in the route of refugees across European countries.
On the important role of child helplines in providing help and assistance referred Sheila Donovan, Executive Director of Child Helpline International (CHI), whereas she emphasized the comprehensive and child centered approach followed by “The Smile of the Child” to protect children from harm, including prevention, response and aftercare. “Protecting children in migration is a shared European as well as global responsibility” said Sheila Donovan, who also highlighted the importance of cooperation among members of CHI across countries and regions with migratory flows such as Greece, Jordan, Iraq and Palestine.
Both representatives highlighted that “The Smile of the Child” as a key member of both Missing Children Europe and Child Helpline International can rely on the full support of the networks in dealing with the challenges of the migration crisis. All actors agreed on the need to continue exerting pressure to the European institutions and actors for the protection of children and, in particular, unaccompanied minors.
During the press briefing discussion was also centered on the recent proposal of the European Commission in the framework of the negotiations for Dublin III, according to which the principle of the best interest of the minor is not of primary consideration in the assessments of Dublin transfers and asylum applications for minors.
As an integral part of this mission to Greece the team of “The Smile of the Child” and the representatives of Missing Children Europe and Child Helpline International visited the Gate E1 in the port of Piraeus, the camp of Malakasa in the Attica Region, the port of Thessaloniki and the camp of Diavatas in Northern Greece. There, they had the opportunity to see the actions implemented by “The Smile of the Child” on the ground, talk with refugee families and children, the coordinators of the camps and monitor the problems, gaps and needs for the protection of children and families.
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Missing Children Europe is the European federation for missing and sexually exploited children. It represents a network of 30 NGOs in 24 countries in Europe. The Smile of the Child is a founding member of MCE and operates the European Hotline for Missing Children 116 000 in Greece.
Child Helpline International Foundation (CHI) is the global network of 183 members in 142 countries, which together receive over 14 million contacts a year from children and young people in need of care and protection. “The Smile of the Child is member of CHI and operates the European Helpline 116 111 in Greece