Unaccompanied Migrant Children in Greece: IOM Report

Greece - IOM Greece has published a report based on interviews with 1,206 unaccompanied child migrants in Greece. Some 508 said that they would not consider returning to their countries of origin because it was their intention to reach a northern European country and 282 expressed the wish to return back to their country of origin. The remainder initially expressed willingness to return home but later changed their minds and decided to stay in Greece.

By the end of the project in late 2014, which was designed to develop standard operating procedures for assisted voluntary return and reintegration of unaccompanied migrant children, 59 of the children returned home with IOM return and full reintegration assistance. Another 41 from Egypt returned home and received post arrival reintegration assistance.

The report: Addressing the Needs of Unaccompanied Minors (UAMs) in Greece showed that the 508 were intent on reaching their final destination no matter what services were made available to them in Greece, as they thought that they would have a better future in another European country.

Of these, some 32 percent said that their final destination would be Germany, 23 percent the United Kingdom, 22 percent Sweden, 9 percent Norway, 5 percent France and 9 percent other European countries, such as Austria, Belgium, the Netherlands, Denmark and Finland. 

The majority of those who intended to continue their journey to northern Europe were boys aged between 15 and 17, primarily from Afghanistan and Pakistan.

“As per IOM Guidelines on the Protection of Unaccompanied Migrant Children, we had to confirm the identity of the legal guardians in the country of origin, have IOM or a partner NGO in the country of origin complete a family assessment, share the material with Greek authorities, get the child’s opinion, and along with the Prosecutor of Minors, explore whether it was in the best interests of the child to return home,” said IOM Greece Chief of Mission Daniel Esdras.

Most of the children were between the ages of 13 and 17 and the main countries of origin were Afghanistan (609), Egypt (216), Pakistan (176) and Bangladesh (54.) Only three were girls.

One of the 282 who wanted to return home, a 16 year-old from Pakistan said: “When I came to Greece and I realized the situation I started crying. I was crying all the time. Somebody told me that without a passport I couldn’t leave - that’s why I stayed here nine months. If I’d known that I could return home (voluntarily with IOM), I would have left earlier. I don’t want to stay here any longer.”

A 16 year-old from Afghanistan said: “I have decided to return home. I cannot survive here. I am a minor. Now I only want to return to my country.”

“The ideal picture I had of Greece is far from the reality. I want to return home and open a small business,” said a 17 year-old from Pakistan.

Those who decided to stay in Europe cited various reasons.

“I am sure a better future is waiting for me in Sweden,” said a 16 year-old from Afghanistan.

 “I want to go somewhere safe. I don’t have any money. Maybe I can borrow a little money in order to move on to other European countries,” said a 16 year-old from Pakistan.

A 17 year-old from Afghanistan said his brother had told him that there were job opportunities in the UK and he should therefore not go back home.

“I know the language and I have relatives outside Paris that I can stay with,” said a 16 year-old from Algeria.

“My parents sent me to Europe for a better future; I don’t want to disappoint them,” said a 17 year-old from Iraq.

For some, just being provided with the right information was very important. A 15 year-old from Pakistan said: “I had no idea that I have the right to change my mind even on the day of departure. But, honestly I cannot bear living far away of my family anymore.”

The top countries of destination were selected based on the children’s ability to speak the language, the presence of family and/or friends, and existing migrant communities whom they thought could help them.

During the project, IOM Greece worked closely with various organizations in the public sector, as well as with Greek NGOs, Embassies in Greece and IOM missions in the countries of origin.

The project, which was funded by the European Union, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, Denmark and Sweden, ran from February 2013 to October 2014.

Download a copy of the report here.

For further information please contact Daniel Esdras at IOM Greece, Tel: +30 2109919040, Email: