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UN Decries Greek Detention of Unaccompanied Child Asylum Seekers

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees says it is alarmed by the detention of unaccompanied children in Lesvos, Greece. It says the children are living in appalling conditions at a detention center there.

The U.N. refugee agency says staff members were shocked when they saw the living condition of asylum seekers detained at the Pagani facility on the Greek island of Lesvos.

UNHCR spokesman, Andrej Mahecic, says more than 850 people are being held in the center, which is meant to hold only a maximum of 300 people. He says this group includes some 200 unaccompanied children, mainly from Afghanistan.

"The UNHCR staff described the condition of the center as unacceptable," said Mahecic. "One room houses over 150 women and 50 babies, many suffering from illnesses related to the cramped and unsanitary conditions of the center."

"The deputy minister of health and social solidarity has given UNHCR his assurances that all the unaccompanied children at Pagani will be transferred to special reception facilities by the end of the month. The ministry has already taken some measures to that effect," he added.

Mahecic says Greece's asylum system has big problems. Last year, he says, the UNHCR with the support of the Greek Ministry of Interior, made recommendations for a complete overhaul of the system, including specific measures to protect children seeking asylum. But, he notes, these proposals, so far, have not been implemented.

"In 2008, the Greek Coast Guard reported the arrival of 2,648 unaccompanied children, but many more are believed to have entered the country undetected. Greece has no process for assessing the individual needs and best interests of these children," said Mehecic.

Mahecic says the government has made efforts to increase the number of places for children at specialized, open centers. But, he says those arriving in Greece outstrip these efforts, so children remain in detention for long periods.

He says Greece accepts far fewer refugees than other European countries.