Greece: No police custody for migrant unaccompanied minors

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FILE In this Tuesday, Oct. 11, 2016 file photo, migrant children stand on the window of a new reception center for unaccompanied minors in Athens. Greece's migration minister said on Wednesday, Nov. 18, 2020 the country is abolishing the practice of holding asylum seeker children and teenagers who arrive in Greece without parents or guardians in protective police custody. (AP Photo/Thanassis Stavrakis, File)

ATHENS – Greece is abolishing the practice of holding asylum-seeker children and teenagers who arrive in the country without parents or guardians in protective police custody, the migration minister said Wednesday.

The practice, which saw newly arrived unaccompanied minors held in police stations across the country sometimes for months at a time and often along with unrelated adults, has been widely condemned by rights groups. It has also led to judgments against Greece by the European Court of Human Rights.

Migration and Asylum Minister Notis Mitarachi said Wednesday that as of Nov. 14, no unaccompanied asylum-seeker teenagers and children remained in police custody.

“We will move with legislative changes to stop the scheme of unaccompanied minors being kept in police custody, a system that started in 2001,” he said.

When the system began, the holding of unaccompanied minors in police custody was supposed to be temporary, but often ended in prolonged stays because of a lack of available spaces at children’s shelters.

In early 2019, the European Court of Human Rights ruled in favor of nine minors from Syria, Iraq and Morocco who had arrived in Greece in 2016 and ended up spending weeks in police custody before being placed in shelters. They were between the ages of 14 and 17 at the time.

According to the ministry, efforts began at the start of the year to move children being held in police stations to more appropriate accommodation.

It said 331 unaccompanied minors were in protective police custody at the end of March, and that number had been reduced to zero by Nov. 14, with the children moved to long-term or temporary shelters.