A detention centre for refugees on Lesvos in Greece.

“Self-harm has become so common among refugee children in Greek detention centres, you can almost consider it a hobby.”

It’s just one example of harrowing behaviour amongst child refugees which staff in Greek detention centres have described, caused by the despair and stress of being locked up as a result of the EU-Turkey deal to stop migrants entering Greece.

The report, compiled by Save the Children, also details how children as young as nine are attempting suicide, and how many refugee minors are abusing drugs to escape the grim reality of their situation.

Hailed as a success by the EU when signed a year ago today, the deal is anything but. Over 14,000 refugees, including women and children, are now stranded on islands in the Aegean Sea – detained for months in squalid conditions at the mercy of an ever changing asylum system even legal experts struggle to comprehend.

Facilities on the islands of Lesbos, Samos, Chios, Kos and Leros are home to almost twice the number of people they were designed for, with a further 60,000 refugees and migrants trapped in mainland Greece as a result of the deal.

Every day that children remain locked up in Greece is a fresh stain on the EU’s nosediving human rights record. The detention of children purely because they are migrants violates the Convention of the Rights of the Child, meaning every child locked up in Greece is an example of the EU running roughshod over international law.

Children and their families should be released from these detention centres immediately. Greece and other European states must allow children to travel freely both within and between countries in order to find safety, opportunities and to reunite with their families.

The EU may claim these measures are designed to protect children. But locking child refugees and migrants up indefinitely is never in their best interests. Children and their families waiting for decisions on their migration status should not be left to rot in detention, but allowed to live in social settings until their situation is resolved.

European leaders may think they are only locking away faceless child migrants and refugees. But every one of them has hopes, dreams and ambitions. It’s time for those dreams to be let out of Greek detention centres and given the freedom they deserve.

For more information on the EU-Turkey deal, see how the EU should stop letting fear define its response to the crisis, and how EU citizens are demanding that their governments take in more refugees from Greece.

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