There are about 2,000 child refugees living alone in Greece today. Some of them left their home countries by themselves; others got separated from their family along the way. All of them face significant challenges in their new country.
Existing shelters work to accommodate and protect the children, but the sheer volume of incoming refugees leaves the centers unable to adequately provide for and care for everyone. As a result, many children are left out of the camps and forced to the streets, leaving them subject to exploitation or detention.
Thanks to funding from our supporters around the globe, SOS Children’s Villages in Greece opened four youth homes for unaccompanied child refugees. The homes, which include one of the only facilities in Greece for unaccompanied girls, have provided a safe sanctuary to about 200 children since they opened in 2016.
Refugees happy to have crossed the border from FYR Macedonia into Greece.
The most important task for the staff at the homes is to establish trust with the children, says Mohammad Vahedi, a psychologist who runs the SOS youth home in Athens.
“These children have to see that there are people who they can build real and honest relationships with,” he explains. The youth homes provide access to full-time social workers, psychologists, cultural mediators and asylum lawyers to children who have made their way to Greece alone.
Even with the support of SOS, unaccompanied children face uncertainty and lengthy legal processes to bring their families to Greece, leaving some of them to seek out to human traffickers to reunite with their families earlier.
“They are young, so sometimes they don’t understand the dangers involved,” said Lina Tsiambazi, an SOS social worker who helped establish the girl’s center.
Convincing these children to stay patient and continue pursuing the legal processes of family reunification has been a priority for SOS staff.
“It can take a long time to build their trust,” said Lina. “However, we try our best to ensure they trust our judgment and do not reach out to traffickers.”
Mohammad organizes weekly one-on-one sessions explaining the great risks and dangers of turning to human traffickers, and encourages the children to speak openly about any concerns and troubles they may have. Like the children for whom he now cares, Mohammad also came to Greece alone as a child—from Iran 20 years ago.
Integration into the local school system has also been a fundamental challenge for some of the children. Often, children are unmotivated to attend Greek schools, as they are hoping to move on to other countries in Europe, Lina explains.
“We have addressed this issue with the schools to ensure classes are provided which are tailored in a way that is more valuable for refugees,” said Lina. Newly designed programs focus chiefly on science and English lessons and give less emphasis to Greek-focused human sciences and language classes.
For the past few years, SOS in Greece has been providing psychological and emotional care, social services, language classes, food and hygiene kits, as well as sports and recreational activities at refugee centers in Athens, on Lesbos Island and in the Thessaloniki area. SOS has helped more than 76,000 refugee children and their families in these areas and has provided housing, care and legal assistance to nearly 200 unaccompanied children at its four centers—three for boys and one for girls—since 2016.