Over sixty experts attended a roundtable this week in Athens to support a new model of alternative care for unaccompanied children in Greece. The experts stressed the importance of Supported Independent Living (SIL) for older unaccompanied children as a model of care that would provide adolescents with housing, supported supervision and access to a range of protection services.
“Through the dialogue and exchange of experiences and best practices we will be able to improve relevant legislation and better approach this alternative care model following its adaptation to the Greek reality and current socio-economic conditions in the country,” the Prosecutor General of the Supreme Court of Greece, Xeni Dimitriou, stressed in her opening address at the two-day conference.
“The question is not whether, but rather how to adopt the Supported Independent Living as a model of care in Greece, and how soon it can be implemented,” added Dimitriou at the landmark 29-30 January gathering, which was co-hosted by the Supreme Court Public Prosecutor’s Office and the National Centre for Social Solidarity (EKKA), with the support of UNICEF and UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, and with technical input from the inter-agency Alternative Care Task Force.
The roundtable brought together representatives from key Ministries, public prosecutors, the Deputy Ombudsman for Children’s Rights, policy makers, international and non-governmental organizations, as well as child protection experts from Greece, Italy, Netherlands and United Kingdom.
As there are currently more than 3,350 unaccompanied children in Greece and only 1,101 places in residential shelters, the experts highlighted the urgent need to identify and apply long-term solutions for the accommodation, protection and social integration of these children into Greek society.
A range of issues were discussed during the meeting, including experiences and good practices from SIL programmes in other EU cities, possibilities to refine relevant legislation, procedural frameworks and standards for the implementation of such a model in Greece, as well as risks and effective mitigation strategies. During the second day, working groups dealt with procedural issues, the pilot implementation of the model in Greece and coordination between relevant bodies.
Special emphasis was given to the prosecutors’ orders for placement in SIL and representation orders as well as on practical operational issues and the respective roles of the national, regional and local authorities.
Both the Country Coordinator of UNICEF Refugee and Migrant Response in Greece, Lucio Melandri, and UNHCR Representative in Greece, Philippe Leclerc, stressed the need to expand the modalities of care for unaccompanied minors, respecting the best interest of the children, in a sustainable way and referred to the benefits of SIL both for the social inclusion of children and their host communities.
UNHCR Representative in Greece, Philippe Leclerc, stressed the benefits of Supported Independent Living for the social inclusion of unaccompanied children. ©UNHCR/Christos Tolis
“It is obvious that this change in our care model follows the shifting conditions. Greece is not a transit country any more. Even if we cannot yet name it a destination country, refugees and migrants do stay for a longer period. SIL is a model that promotes integration so that minors become productive members of Greek society”, said Ilias Zagoraios, Deputy Prosecutor of the Court of Appeal and Head of the Prosecution Service of the First Instance Court of Athens. He also highlighted that it is necessary to proceed urgently with the legislative initiatives to regulate foster care and guardianship with the view to implement this model.
“The adaption of a new legislation for guardianship is imperative. During the implementation of the pilot SIL programme, the authorized representatives of the minors will have similar authorities with those foreseen for the guardians in the forthcoming legislation”, said Pericles Tziaras, EKKA President.
“The protection of every child staying in Greece constitutes a fundamental responsibility and key priority of the General Secretariat of Welfare” stated Dimitrios Karellas, General Secretary of Welfare of the Ministry of Labor, Social Security and Social Solidarity.
The Supported Independent Living model will ultimately provide unaccompanied children with opportunities to develop life skills, resilience, and livelihood skills in order to support their transition to adulthood within the local community. This form of care already exists in several European countries and is more appropriate for older adolescents who show higher levels of self-sufficiency. It has also proven to be more cost-effective and sustainable than institutional care.