IOM Deploys Experts to Aid Unaccompanied Egyptian Migrant Children in Greece
On 26 August 2015, a boat with 240 migrants put in a rescue call in international waters south of the Greek island of Crete. The majority of the people on board were Egyptian nationals. Of those, an alarming 73 per cent were unaccompanied migrant children.
IOM Egypt immediately deployed a team of Arabic speakers, including a psychosocial expert with experience in counselling young people, to meet with these children and others in six protective temporary shelters in Athens, Volos and Thessaloniki.
The children told of setting sail from Baltim (in Egypt's Kafr El Sheikh Governorate) with the intention of reaching Italy. Most reported physical and verbal abuse from the smugglers, as well scarce food and water throughout the journey.
Many of the children said that they were the main breadwinners of their families and had decided to migrate irregularly to increase their income and accomplish more, as they did not see any economic future for themselves in their communities of origin. Given their very poor background, most had been forced to drop out of school and work to help their families.
“All I wanted was to help my father by contributing to the expense of my two sisters' marriages. If I didn't have sisters, I wouldn't have gone on that boat,” said one interviewee.
Others put their lives at risk for a better education. “I always did well at school. But I knew the educational system in Egypt would limit my opportunities,” said one youth. “I wanted to go to a good school and learn how to think critically — not just memorize.”
IOM Egypt, in close coordination with IOM Greece, the Greek authorities and the Egyptian embassy in Greece, will help any child who expresses their desire to return home to Egypt to do so. Some have already decided not to return and will continue their journey beyond Greece.
IOM Egypt is working in close coordination with the Egyptian government to institutionalize the protection of Egyptian children abroad and to ensure their safe return to Egypt. A donor roundtable was held in Cairo to raise additional funds for the voluntary return of the minors.
The shelters managed by the Greek authorities provide different degrees of services, according to available financial and human resources, which are sometimes very stretched. In this regard, IOM Egypt is exploring the possibility of providing in-kind assistance to selected shelters across Greece receiving unaccompanied migrant children.