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Children in migrant centres denied basic human rights, says top official

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Pournara migrant camp (File photo)

Putting migrant reception centres in lockdown is a violation of migrant children’s basic human rights and liberties, the children’s rights commissioner said on Wednesday.

Despo Michaelidou said she strongly opposed the decree prohibiting residents from leaving the Pournara and Kofinou migrant reception centres, saying overcrowding has had a direct impact on the living conditions of residents.

Her criticisms were made in a letter addressed to the interior, health and education ministries and the ombudswoman.

In an attempt to curb the spread of coronavirus, the centres have not been permitted to release residents, even if they fulfil the preconditions to leave – such as an approved asylum application.

“Conditions at Pournara are dismal because it was initially intended as a temporary reception centre. It has the capacity to provide shelter for 72 hours and is definitely not equipped to support longterm residents in a dignified manner,” she said.

The commissioner said that the decree has gravely impacted residents’ mental state, sparking frustration, anger and despair and leading to clashes such as the recent violent episodes at Pournara, which ended with multiple injuries and damage to the centre’s infrastructure.

“This is not the same as taking away some of the public’s rights to protect public health. The ministry of health ought to issue decrees that cover only what is absolutely necessary,” she said, “to avoid turning these reception centres into detention centres”.

There are currently 60 unaccompanied minors at Pournara, but the overcrowdeding and no separate quarantine spaces have had adverse effects on their mental and physical health, said the commissioner.

Children at the Kofinou centre have not been allowed to leave the camp to go to school since November, before schools were closed across the island. The ministry of education’s attempts to set up remote learning for them has proven extremely difficult, considering conditions at the centre are less than ideal, she added.

Michaelidou condemned this decision, calling it a direct violation of children’s right to education.

“Remote learning will never be a sufficient alternative to face-to-face learning, especially in the context of children’s social and emotional development,” she said.

The commissioner asked for more clarity on the reasoning behind this decree and demanded better data on the numbers of children residing at the centres, their level of education and whether special arrangements have been made to ensure each camp has a designated space for remote learning.

Finally, she asked ministers what actions have been made towards ensuring remote learning for all children and reiterated that these children have been deprived of the right to physical attendance at school since mid-November.

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