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“I Don’t Want to Be in Prison”

6a0120a608aa53970c01b7c82e2af3970b-120wi Sacha Myers

Information, Communications and Media Manager

Save the Children in Greece

April 4, 2016

Nothing quite prepares you for seeing a child refugee locked in a detention center.

I’ve read about children in detention centers. I’ve heard people speak about it and I’ve watched videos. But seeing children with your own eyes locked behind a barbed wire fence is a completely different and horrifying experience.

When I visited Moria detention center on the Greek island of Lesvos, some children were playing in the concrete yard, while others stood by the fence with their fingers laced through the wire, listlessly watching the outside world go by—desperation etched on their faces.

My first feeling was confusion and disbelief: these are children who have done nothing wrong – why are they locked up?

Then came the sadness, followed quickly by a burning sense of injustice in the pit of my stomach.

Alone

6a0120a608aa53970c01b8d1b890c8970c-320wiMany of the children I saw that day in Lesvos are alone – they don’t have their family to protect them and look out for them. No one to watch their back while they sleep; no one to keep them motivated when the days are long and the challenges seem Greeceinsurmountable.

Most children have fled bullets, bombs and death. They are in Greece because they made a choice: they chose to live and seek safety in another country. And now they are being punished for it.

A child in detention in Greece told one of my colleagues: “I feel so lonely because I was separated from my friends and family and brought here by force…I want to get out of here. I don’t want to be in prison.”

Stranded

The current border closures with the Balkan countries in northern Greece and the new EU-Turkey agreement mean thousands of children traveling alone are currently stranded in detention centers, police stations and overcrowded reception centers in Greece.

Others are sleeping rough in parks and informal camps, too scared to ask for help for fear of being locked up. This means children traveling alone are facing an increased risk of abuse, violence and exploitation. They also make an easy target for traffickers.

The Greek authorities are overwhelmed and do not have the resources to provide the right protection and services these children desperately need. The existing facilities for children traveling alone are full and the Greek authorities are scrambling to find alternative accommodation.

Save the Children is working with local partners and the authorities to provide shelter, information and support for children travelling alone in Greece. But with thousands of children living in deplorable conditions and more arriving every day, the EU and Greek authorities must act now to end the unjustified detention of children and provide safe, open facilities for children.

Because no child seeking safety deserves to be locked away.

To learn more about our response to the Syria crisis, click here.

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