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Nine unaccompanied minors move to child-welfare NGO’s facilities (Updated)

migrant sits outside the kokkinotrimithia refugee camp on the outskirts of nicosia
File photo. Pournara

Nine unaccompanied minors who left the migrant reception centre earlier this week and were sleeping outdoors were on Friday transferred to 24/7 facilities of Hope for Children (HFC), while a solution is being sought for those remaining.

According to the NGO, following relevant instructions by the social welfare services, the minors, will be hosted at the various facilities of the charity across the government-controlled areas.

The group belonged to some 30 unaccompanied minors who mid-week choose to leave the temporary Pournara reception migrant centre in Kokkinotrimithia, as reports over “appalling” living conditions at the centre emerged in recent days.

“Efforts are underway to ensure their accommodation,” HFC said, adding the charity suggested the minors to be placed in apartments and be monitored by the state services and the policy centre.

But unless relevant instructions are provided by the social welfare services, no one is allowed to host the unaccompanied children.

“The minors are under the legal guardianship of the social welfare services, we cannot intervene or decide where they will be hosted unless there is a referral or a request by the social welfare services,” HFC explained.

Some of the underage children returned to the camp, while others who have identified as underage remained near Paphos gate, volunteers told the Cyprus Mail.

Their decision to leave Pournara came after a protest by unaccompanied minors on Tuesday, over delays in the examination of their application, which forces them to stay at the centre.

After the protest, the children’s rights commissioner Despo Michaelidou as well as ombudswoman Maria Lottides published a report condemning the poor living conditions and urging for the immediate removal of the minors.

Their reports led Akel MPs to visit the centre on Friday to check the living conditions, while reports of damage at the centre circulated in the media due to strong winds that uprooted trees in certain areas overnight.

A worker within Pournara, who chose to remain anonymous, told the Cyprus Mail the situation with unaccompanied minors is “horrifying” as there are significant delays during the processing of their applications due to understaffing at the relevant departments.

There is currently a backlog of applications with officers from the social welfare services and the reception centre are conducting meetings to address the situation.

“The team handling the applications of minors is compiled by two or three people, while there is significant understaffing at the social welfare services too, leading to children staying at the centre for months,” the source said.

In the meantime, children stay at the centre, without any activities and without receiving any education.

At the same time, there is a blame game among the relevant departments, the source added, citing the interior ministry’s announcement on Thursday which said it was the responsibility of the social welfare services to transfer minors from Pournara.

“They should work together instead of blaming each other, for the benefit of the people,” the worker at Pournara said.

Meanwhile, concerned residents, activists and volunteers who found out the children stayed in the streets have been striving to provide for them and other migrants staying at the centre by organising social media donation drives.

State primary school teachers also expressed “strong concern” over the living conditions of children citing the report by the commissioner for children rights.

The state should ensure humane living conditions to people, especially children, hosted at the migrant reception centre in Kokkinotrimithia, state primary school teachers’ union Poed said Friday.

Their statement came a day after the ombudswoman advised minors should be removed from the centre, while describing the poor living conditions.

She blamed delays in the relocation of minors to the complicated and time-consuming process to determine whether those without documents claiming they are underage are actually under 18.

However, on the same day, the interior ministry said the social welfare services failed to remove 214 minors, months after their applications have been examined, which includes the age assessment.

The ministry issued a statement responding to criticism on Pournara, explaining it is dealing with an increased flow of unaccompanied minors this year, while other services, especially the social welfare department, are also responsible for them.

A total of 2,280 people were staying at the centre during Lottides’ visit, of whom about 1,800 were men, 310 minors and the remainder were women.

Pournara has a capacity of 1,200 people, the ombudswoman said, while according to the ministry, the centre can accommodate 100 underage children after new improvements.

Unaccompanied minors might end up staying at the centre for up to 100 days instead of the maximum of one month, she said.

Lottides added the water for the showers, the majority of which concerned chemical showers, is generally cold, while the seepage pits often overflow due to overcrowding as they were constructed for the needs of 500 people.

There is also often a large amount of waste scattered, despite the fact a garbage truck is visiting the centre on a daily basis and there is a waste compactor right outside, Lottides said.

Lottides published the report on Thursday based on her visit at the centre on February 14, and her visit at the children’s house ran by NGO Hope for Children on March 9. The report was submitted to the interior minister as well as the deputy minister for social welfare Anastasia Anthousi.

 

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