August 28, 2009 / 11:01 AM / 8 years ago

UN shocked by child refugee conditions in Greece

GENEVA (Reuters) - More than 850 people including 200 unaccompanied children are being held in shocking conditions at a detention centre for illegal immigrants on the Greek island of Lesvos, the U.N. refugee agency UNHCR said on Friday.

The report on the centre at Pagani adds to concern already expressed by UNHCR about Greece’s treatment of migrants.

UNHCR spokesman Andrej Mahecic said commission staff had visited the centre, which has a capacity of 250 to 300, earlier this week. Most detainees were from Afghanistan, he said.

“The UNHCR staff described the condition of the centre as unacceptable,” he told a briefing.

“One room houses over 150 women and 50 babies, many suffering from illness related to the cramped and unsanitary conditions of the centre,” he said.

Greek health and social solidarity ministry officials have assured the UNHCR that all unaccompanied children at Pagani will be transferred to special reception facilities by the end of the month and the ministry has started work on this, he said.

“The situation in Pagani is indicative of broader problems relating to irregular migration and Greece’s asylum system,” Mahecic said.

Greece so far has failed to implement recommendations presented last year by UNHCR with the support of the interior ministry to overhaul the asylum system, with special measures to protect children, he noted.

The UNHCR argues that neither children nor asylum-seekers in general should be held in detention, and says that Greece has a much lower rate of recognising asylum-seekers than other states.

Last month the UNHCR said that new rules in Greece’s asylum policy would make it even harder to get refugee status in the European Union member.

The European Union has called on Turkey to do more to combat people-trafficking into Greece and said illegal immigration through Turkey was a threat to Greek democracy.

Mahecic said the Greek coastguard had reported the arrival of 2,648 unaccompanied children in 2008 but many more are believed to have entered the country undetected.

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