It’s been three months since a visit by MPs to the Pournara migrant facility revealed that there was drug use and prostitution going on there and that around 300 unaccompanied minors were at risk.
Clearly nothing much has been done in the meantime as a group of unaccompanied minors have taken to the street and refuse to go back into the camp.
The description by Children’s Rights Commissioner Despo Michaelidou of the living conditions as described by the children when she visited this week could not fail to conjure up images from a Dickensian novel.
The children only receive a piece of bread for breakfast with no drink and are given a small bottle of water in the afternoon that has to last till the next day, according to Michaelidou. Also, around 15 sleep in each room, usually sharing beds, with some sleeping on the floor, and they have to share two toilets and a single shower.
Although the bread and water situation sounds somewhat exaggerated, the rest is entirely believable. Conditions at Pournara are unfit for any human being, child or adult, genuine refugee or economic migrant.
Michaelidou’s description of starving children left people appalled and disgusted that the government was allowing this to go on. Her pleas to the interior ministry have gone unheeded, she told Politis radio yesterday.
Michaelidou clarified that the children out protesting were teenagers, which makes sense. In the minds of most people, it is unimaginable that any parent would allow their minor child to make the treacherous sea journey to Cyprus alone with a group of strangers, people-smugglers and probably child traffickers.
This also begs the question, however, as to how many who claim asylum are actually ‘unaccompanied minors’ at all.
According to asylumineurope.org, in 2019 some 535 unaccompanied minors applied for asylum here, of which 203 were referred to age assessment with 194 found to be adults. In 2020, around 300 applied for asylum of which 66 were referred for age assessment. Out of these, 55 were referred for further medical age assessment. Of the 50 who completed the assessment, 43 were found to be adults.
This is a tricky situation for the authorities. The idea of housing genuine minors with adults pretending to be minors is appalling, but under international regulations, those claiming to be minors must be given the benefit of the doubt until proven otherwise.
But according to Michealidou, there are a number of unaccompanied teens at Pournara whose identity was verified six or eight months ago. Yet they have not been moved.
Akel is cued up for more outrage after their visit today to Pournara. If it is true what they said that the EU has provided €3 million specifically for the creation of a centre for unaccompanied minors, then the ongoing situation is truly a disgrace for Cyprus.
Having a separate smaller and more controlled facility would at least help protect real minors from the imposters among them, unlike the situation at Pournara.