Reception of unaccompanied minors in Greece

In 2015 and 2016, large groups of refugees and migrants arrived in Greece, including unaccompanied foreign minors. Many of them had insufficient access to healthcare, legal support and adequate shelter. This is a challenge for the Greek government. In response to these issues, the Ministry of Justice and Security launched a three-year project in 2020 to support the Greek government in creating additional shelter and strengthening the guardianship system for this group. A budget of 3 to 4 million euros has been set aside for this project. With support from the Dutch government, the Dutch NGO Movement on the Ground and the Greek NGO The HOME Project set up three houses in Athens.

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Image: ©Ministerie van Justitie en Veiligheid / Iason Athanasiadis

Vassilis Michailidis – We feel trusted

Vassilis Michailidis is the Chief of Staff at The HOME Project. He is responsible for the daily coordination, communication and collaboration with partners such as Movement on the Ground.

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Image: ©Ministerie van Justitie en Veiligheid / Iason Athanasiadis
Vassilis Michailidis

‘We run three houses with support from the Dutch government. We offer protection in a very pragmatic way and work with our own people. Providing education and healthcare: that is what we do. Movement on the Ground helped us to secure support from the Dutch government and set up the houses in Athens. They arranged the buildings, contracts, renovations and maintenance.

We have no direct contact with the Ministry in our day-to-day operations, but we did meet the Dutch Minister for Migration when she came to visit, for example. We are free to do our work in the way we think is best. Movement on the Ground acts as an intermediary and issues progress reports.

We met Movement on the Ground in the camps on the islands. We found out that we share the same mission. Movement on the Ground had background information on children, such as family relationships and physical condition. Movement on the Ground is a great partner; they give us ideas like art therapy and put us in touch with other initiatives.

We are pleased with the setup. From the beginning, it was clear that we could implement our method – which has proven effective – unhindered. Movement on the Ground said: you are the experts, we want you to be free to do what you have to do. We feel trusted. They are sparring partners, but they give us the freedom to do things our way.’

Martijn van Ommen – We share the same vision

Martijn van Ommen left for Lesbos five years ago to set up an off-grid solar power system for Movement on the Ground. Struck by the circumstances, he decided to stay. In Greece, he came into contact with The HOME Project. Movement on the Ground and The HOME Project shared the same vision. This led to their collaboration on the project in Athens.

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Image: ©Ministerie van Justitie en Veiligheid / Iason Athanasiadis
Martijn van Ommen

‘We provide facilities-related support, implement additional training programmes such as Skills Build by IBM and run a sports programme in collaboration with the Barcelona Foundation. We have daily contact with the staff at the houses to monitor how things are going.

Our name stands for taking action – not just talk, but getting things done. We’re a good match for The HOME Project: actively working with the children, focusing on education and organising activities outside the houses, like going to the beach, visiting the zoo or having a picnic in the park. I have visited many shelters. There is a big difference when it comes to our approach at The HOME Project and Movement on the Ground. It feels like you’re part of a big family. I don’t call them shelters; I call them houses.

We visit the houses regularly. If we see things that we would like to change, we talk about it, but The HOME Project is in charge. We both feel it’s very important to provide a secure place, safety and legal, social and mental support. Wherever the children may end up later on, we try to teach them some life skills.

We have daily informal meetings with The HOME Project. I know what’s going on. We also receive a monthly report that we supplement with our own findings and then share with the Ministry of Justice and Security. A colleague in Amsterdam handles all direct contact, while I work more on the front lines. We bear final responsibility, and we report on our activities.

I've seen the critical articles of course, which makes you think. Do I still believe in what we’re doing? Are we making a difference? But I try not to get to much involved. The children are my priority, no matter what people think or say. When you stand face to face with a ten-year-old boy, no extra clothes, no place to sleep, no sleeping bag, in the middle of the woods among six thousand single men, you think: you know what, we’re going to find a safe place for you. People can say all they want, but I will help and find a solution, whatever that may be. It might not be the best choice politically, but you just want to get the child to safety.’

Yuri Schutte – We can quickly switch gears

Yuri Schutte, Coordinating Advisor of the Bureau for International Migration (BIM; part of the Directorate-General for Migration), is responsible for supervising the partnership.

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Image: ©Ministerie van Justitie en Veiligheid / Valerie Kuijpers
Yuri Schutte

‘We started this partnership because we want to support Greece in creating a safe environment for the children to live in. There was a political desire for a Dutch and Greek NGO to work together, which is one of the reasons why this type of project was chosen. There are two aspects to the partnership: creating and maintaining shelters and strengthening the guardianship system. That is what our Greek colleagues explicitly asked for.

We learn from the experiences gained by Movement on the Ground and The HOME Project. To be specific, we look at what works and what doesn’t, how things are going, where gaps occur. We use this information to strengthen the guardianship system in Greece. The Netherlands is unique because we have a separate organisation, Nidos, which is responsible for the guardianship of unaccompanied minors. The Greeks find that interesting and want to learn how they can adjust their system. Nidos supports them in this regard. The key point is that we are helping Greece create a structural, safe environment to care for and protect the children. This will take some time, of course, but we can now make very concrete proposals for structural improvements.

Movement on the Ground and The HOME Project have full freedom to set up and run the three houses and to assist residents. In the preparation phase, we set a clear framework. The collaboration is based on a pragmatic approach. We have a short line of communication.

The nice thing about our partnership is that we’re able to work together on a sensitive (political) issue without having to agree on every single point. What challenge are we facing, and can we tackle it together? We may not agree when it comes to Dutch policy as a whole, but in this partnership we don't focus on differences of opinion, but rather on those areas where we find common ground. We respect each other in this regard.

It’s amazing how Movement on the Ground and The HOME Project were able to set up three shelters in just a few months during the lockdown in Athens. What I also appreciate about the partnership with Movement on the Ground is the “less talk, more action” and “can-do” mentality. They are very pragmatic. They go for it. They stay focused on their goal and don’t lose sight of their ideals. I also see these qualities – albeit at a distance – in The HOME Project.’   

Text: Jelle Beijer