MIGRATION: Teenage migrants “trapped” in Greece

ATHENS/LESBOS, 17 October 2012 (IRIN) - By early evening, Alexandra Park in central Athens starts to fill up with young, male migrants. They gather on benches, and some even kick a ball around, but they are not here for recreation - this is where they sleep, hoping their numbers will provide some protection from sexual predation and racist attacks.
Editorial Keydmedia Online
MIGRATION: Teenage migrants “trapped” in Greece

“I wait until everyone leaves, and then at 12 or 1 I can go to sleep. Then, when it gets light at 6, I wake up again,” said Ibrahim Jafari, a 17-year-old migrant whose journey to this park started on a hillside in Afghanistan over two years ago. 

Jafari had been supporting his disabled father by working as a shepherd for his uncle. One day, he was accompanied to the fields by his uncle’s son, who fell and fatally knocked his head on a rock. Convinced he would be blamed for the accident, Jafari fled to Iran, where he worked as a casual labourer. In constant fear of being arrested and deported back to Afghanistan, he saved enough money - about US$2,000, to pay smugglers to get him to Greece. 

Jafari has never attended school and cannot read or write. He knew only that Greece was part of Europe, and to his mind, Europe meant jobs and the possibility of a better life. Smugglers capitalize on such ignorance about Greece, where the economic crisis has bred high levels of unemployment and a deep resentment of the hundreds of thousands of undocumented migrants who have arrived in the country in recent years. 

Unaccompanied minors like Jafari, most of them teenage boys from Afghanistan, Iran, Pakistan and West Africa, are particularly vulnerable to the hardships of migrant life in Greece. Government efforts to protect and support them are insufficient and ineffective, and NGO programmes lack coordination, according to Patricia Kirk, a Danish researcher who has interviewed over 100 unaccompanied minors living on the streets of Athens. 

Exploitation and abuse 

“Many have had bad experiences with authorities, so they don’t seek out help,” she told IRIN, adding that many also lie about their age. 

Admitting to being a minor can mean spending months in a detention facility while authorities try to place them at one of the country’s nine centres for unaccompanied minors. 

Shafi Morady, 16, who also came to Greece from Afghanistan after working in Iran, recently spent a month in detention after police raided the apartment in Athens where he was staying. His age did not afford him any special treatment. 

“The food had a bad smell and there were no beds,” he told IRIN. “We just slept on the floor, and the guards kicked us for fun.” 

After detention, he returned to the bed bug-infested apartment he shared with 15 others, which cost him 60 euros a month, but the money his brothers were sending from Afghanistan had run out. He was facing the prospect of sleeping in the park when IRIN interviewed him. 

“I don’t feel good about it, but there’s nothing to do,” he said. “The only work is for smugglers or drug dealers, and I don’t want to do either.” 

Kirk said that some of the boys earn a small income from selling recyclables and washing cars. In a desperate bid to raise enough to pay smugglers to take them to other European countries, some also accept money for sex with men who prowl the parks. 

Sleeping in the parks also makes the boys vulnerable to police harassment and beatings. Jafari said that the police usually did not bother asking for his papers. "They just say

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