City at a Time of Crisis



Tracing and researching crisis-ridden urban public spaces

in Athens, Greece.


Vulnerability in the land of permanent emergency: institutional and normative alien childhood treatments in the case of independent juvenile migrants in Greece

by Sonia Vlachou

During the last two decades, a commonplace realization among scholars, practitioners and activists involved in the study of the EU migrant policy has been that the evolving model of migration management is based on securitization, deportation and exclusion (Boswel et al. 2011; Bourbeau 2011; Carling & Caretero 2011; Dijstelbloem et al. 2011; Enenajor 2008; Hansen et al. eds 2011; Huysmans 2006; Spivak 1997; Triandafyllidou 2010 ao.).

However, with regard to children and youth in migration, developed, law- abiding states conventionally proclaim the degree of respect towards Children’s Rights as defined in the context of the internationally ratified CRC (UNICEF 1989 [1997]) to be an utmost indicator of the states democratic sensibilities and a ‘script sample’ of the degree of their compliance to fundamental Human Rights. While examining thus minor age as a potential refuge-, or last resort- endowment on the course of migration, the basic question arising is whether within the current repressive policy framework the legal quality of childhood (under 18 years old) actually forms a beneficial interstice among structures of the existing deportation regimes.

Since the implementation of the Dublin II regulation, a series of reports with reference to Independent Juvenile Migrants’ border-crossings in European borderlands, with special regard to Greece have demonstrated that the documentation system upon entry arrests has constantly been malfunctioning. Summarily, either authorities perpetually failed to localize minors among mixed flows and provide access to protection provisions, or the minors themselves tendentially ‘oldened’ themselves in order not to fall into the trap of being taken hostages of authorities in a condition of re-infantilization in establishments especially foreseen for the internment of minors, a fact that would imply the loss of the last pigments of their freedom of mobility.

(Forschungsgruppe, T. M. 2007; Papageorgiu & Dimitropoulou 2008; Pro Asyl 2007; the Citizen’s Ombudsman 2005; McDonough & Tsourdi 2012; Naskou-Perraki 2012; Theodoropoulou (2012); Touzenis 2006; Troller 2008; Troubeta 2012; Tsapopoulou et al. 2012 a; a.o.).

In the context of this presentation, in order to encompass agents migrating alone within a generational spectrum extending from puberty to early adulthood, i.e. those represented in the framework of the bureaucratic categories of Unaccompanied Minors, alt. Separated Children, I will henceforth employ the description Independent Juvenile Migrants. Following, I’m going to provide some characteristic samples of experiences that these –according to legal definitions extremely vulnerable- groups are confronted with on the aftermath of border detention, while trying to orient themselves and settle in the new environment. I am therefore going to refer to important aspects of those juveniles’ experiences a) during their efforts to cope within metropolitan space, b) during internment in unaccompanied minors’ reception units and c) after the point of reaching the age of majority. All of the following statements are based on ethnographic findings from participatory research with West Africans, hence, largely rely on own observations and people’s primary testimonies.


A. Metropolitan hunters and waste gatherers.     

Customarily, regardless which border juvenile migrants enter Greece from (land or sea) they head towards Athens, in hope of opportunities to work and to connect to existing peer networks. In fact, they land in a situation of long-t­­erm homelessness characterized by survival hardships, arrests, degrading treatment, and repetitive detention instances, whereby racial depreciation and police brutality hold a central place. Accommodation is mainly found within abandoned, crumbling houses, food by queuing up for charity meals, by generating minimal sums of money through picking return bottles from the garbage, and begging for non- merchandisable vegetable and meat parts at shop- closing times.

The following juvenile’s narratives illustrate the rigidity of prevention of accessing even waste- survival resources and evoke thus the strength of a state- promoted fascist status quo in matters of interior migration management:


_ A: ‘Five stars! This is the first shelter of people who come here. There is five stars, and four stars, the ‘hotel royal’! But we knew that if the police find us there, things are going to go bad. We used to enter at two o’clock in the morning in order to exit around six before the police comes.[…] It was panic the whole time, we couldn’t sleep! We were getting beaten up, getting evicted and were then coming back again because we had nowhere else to go, since it’ s obligatory to sleep sometime, somewhere.

_MB: I stayed there for two months [meaning the two crumbling houses]. It was very difficult. We had to walk for about half an hour a day to arrive to ‘mama Africa’ before eleven in order to be able to eat during the day […] In Omonoia the GCR gave some food rations but it was really hard to arrive there in the first place and to finally get some food. There used to be such long queues that when you arrived in front, you were sometimes told that the food was over. There were even people beating each other in order to get in front at the line. Sometimes I preferred to stay without any food at all rather than start fighting with others over a meal. […] But in the place where we stayed at night the police raided every day, every day, every day, poured our food over, smashed everything around and bat the people. Sometimes they would take the people with them and have them spend the hole day a la dapon [acoustically transfigured ‘allodapwn’, hence, the foreign police at P. Ralli] without giving them any food or drink. ‘A la dapon’ is the migration office of Athens. It is a prison but it is migration at the same time. Then they would release them after midnight after the last bus had gone, so that they cannot even ‘steal the bus’ and have to walk back all of the long distance.         

_A: ‘We had a system to beguile the time and to make some money to buy something to eat. This system was picking Heineken and other bottles from the garbage. Because over there in Athens, you can sell beer bottles between ten and twenty pence each. We knew that we could get some food at six [means p.m]. in Athens, we had three places where you could eat, we had ‘mama Africa’, which is a church. The people call it ‘mama Africa’ because all Africans like us go to eat there. There’s Victoria and Omonoia. […] And then there was Omonoia, which was in the evening but there we could not eat every day, because there where we could eat the police was awaiting and blocking the way in the surrounding streets. So we could not pass without getting arrested and beaten up.

Thus, we were collecting the bottles to sell. One bottle, 10 cents. We were going through garbage, and going through garbage. If we had a couple of euro we all contributed and then parted tasks, one paid a little gas bottle, the other bread, there’s bread down there that costs 50 cents, another one paid for oil or rice and we got by like that. That was what we cooked before going to sleep and then we could eat.

There are also cans you can put to the recycling. If you gather a hundred of them you have one Euro, then you’re ready to go to the supermarket or at butchers’ around Omonoia that sell cheap chicken meat throats, intestines, and so.

And if anything was left, [meaning money], we would go to a cyber café to listen to music and talk with friends, to beguile our time, until returning to the sleeping place.       


2. Internment deficits

After usually having come in contact with the GCR, juveniles have the opportunity to apply for a transfer in an Unaccompanied minors’ reception unit. This might happen after longer waiting durations and following they might become relocated in a variety of places all over Greece. As documented in the case of the specific reception unit where my research was conducted (Konitsa), the main aspects of institutional protection deficiency comprised:

  • Funds scarcity/ irregularity of budgetary flows[1].
  • Unsettled employing arrangements[2].
  • Lack in qualified instructors,
  • Lack of design for specific educational needs; lack of methodological knowledge: Hence, un-preparedness to educate analphabetic- and/or further people with limited educational experience, or people of mixed origins (languages).
  • Staff lacking intercultural competences and therefore, essentializing social - educational deficit. A negative atmosphere of constant communication gap, in combination to scarce and delayed fulfilment of the Centre obligations to material supplies towards UMs have even sparkled shorter duration hunger strikes twice, during 2009 and 2010[3].
  • UMs’ exclusion from apprenticeship workshops on the grounds of their insufficient linguistic competence in Greek.
  • UMs’ exclusion from the public- national schooling system as directed by the UNHCR and the EP[4] due to a variety of complications[5].
  • Lack of the political will to create cultural encounter opportunities between Juvenile Migrants and the local society.
    • A complete lack of an institutional transition plan towards a sustainable adulthood.

Besides the delimitations listed above, there exist moreover a number of invisible constraints on those people’s settlement capacities. These constraints are attached to the lack of legalizing documents (‘red cards’), a fact that deprives people of civic and social personhood beyond their stay in reception units, and activates hence a type of vicious circle of mobility- and quest for income incapacity.

In total, the majority of my interlocutors expressed a feeling of being plainly tolerated but not welcome within the reception unit[6]. With special regard to the quality of daily communication between Juvenile Migrants and some of the institution staff the following quote is indicative:

”Some of the people working in the centre address me by calling me “mavro” [black] in each case. They only call us “mavro” all the time and ignore our names. Last time they asked me to give them a hand with something by calling: “Hey, mavro, come here”! I answered: _ “No! I’ m not helping you unless you call me by my name. I’m not called “mavro”! You should know by now that my name is I.” (Interview, 14.05.11).


Children grow up

Due to the lack in an institutional transition plan, on the aftermath of people’s ‘Coming of Age’, striving for survival takes once again place under conditions of constant psychosocial tension. Thus, after leaving UMs reception centers, encounter with authorities represents a major stressful instance. Systematic breaches of duty on behalf of the Greek police in renewing ‘red cards’ have been narrated, observed and documented. Usual hazing techniques are seen to include the following practices that generate a type of ‘hamster- wheel’ effect for Juvenile Migrants:

Thus, upon applicants’ appearance to the police station in their immediate proximity, officers deny their positional relevancy to renew asylum application bulletins on the grounds of the applicants’ lack in documents proving their administrational belongingness to the given police department (e.g., housing contracts, or a signed declaration of being hosted by someone under a relevant home address[7]). Next, applicants are mostly being indicated to return to the initial location of placing their asylum claim[8], where they are once more denied renewal on the grounds of administrational “non- belongingness”, since that they are no more registered as residents there either. Thus, they end up getting perpetually posted somewhere else (participant observation sessions & conversations, 2010-2013). However, since that people are mostly destitute and house either unofficially in crowded apartments or are homeless and errant, this type of mobility in quest of lawfulness forms an interdictory option for the large majority.

Hence gradually, added to the rest of undocumented migrant populations, juvenile asylum applicants increasingly end up circulating with expired asylum application bulletins as they become progressively hesitant to appear to any police department for renewing them in fear of an arrest, potentially leading to deportation. In fact though, the law takes into consideration the eventuality of those people being homeless and errant. Article 6 of Presidential decree 220/2007 foresees accordingly that also homeless individuals can get their bulletins stamped at the police headquarters of any prefecture around the dominion, provided that they declare their homelessness to authorities[9]. (Amnesty International 2010:21; Government Gazette, 13.11.2007, p: 5007).

Additionally, juveniles among further asylum applicant migrants have repeatedly attested duty misconduct on behalf of police officers who arbitrarily destroy or confiscate asylum application bulletins during identification procedures, without providing any further explanations to their holders regarding motives of such actions. These instances are usually marked by what is legally defined as “unlawful racial and ethnic profiling” [10], i.e., by practices overtly entailing discriminatory behaviours including verbal abuse and physical brutalization. This situation has been described as a type of daily terror especially for those living in Athens and represents an additional propulsion of fall into clandestine (HRW 2013; Pro Asyl 2012).



Juvenile refugees made in Europe?

In this part of the presentation I have demonstrated that through a series of legal and normative treatment practices beneficial juvenility qualities melt into the contour of the entire ‘bogus migration’ problematic. Thus, settlement possibilities for youth of third nationals are countered by a rejection of civic and sociocultural belongingness, corroborated on the level of daily interactions with the aid of rigidly pronounced nationalist and racist discourses.

With regard to Unaccompanied Minors’ reception units, the type of assistance actually supplied attempts to fulfil the absolute minimum of standards, so that the state will have the alibi of complying with international protection principles in order not to be made reprehensible according to conventions that it has ratified. In conformity with the logics imposed by the ‘permanent emergency’ situation imposed by the monetary crisis- vehicle, an examination of ways to enhance juvenile migrants’ self determined development and prospects of sociocultural and affective settlement are viewed as redundant. Alien juveniles are reduced to mere ‘structural units’, whereby this reduction reflects a perception of them on unequal terms with native youth. (Ejorh 2012; Fangen 2012; Hörschelmann and Colls 2009; Sabates-Wheeler & MacAuslan 2007; Schapendonk 2010).

Especially in the case of juveniles, all migratory displacement forms an amalgam of emergencies and aspirations. Nonetheless, regardless of the percentage in components within this amalgam and due to the tremendous amounts of structural violence people are systematically exposed to while trying to set a foot on European territories, I argue here that it is precisely on these territories that migration undertakings become forced. Coercion, as a constitutive component of juvenile migrants’ daily livelihoods in parallel to compartmentalizing asylum procedures governed by a rationality that attributes lower, individualistic motives to poverty migration in contrast to the dignified, martyrous status of legally defined refugee-ness may lead people to an awareness of having to strategically reinvent their stories in order to adapt them to the standards of occidental institutional humanitarian empathy[11]. Therefore, it is the rejection- inflicted and martyrdom-rewarding character of those procedures that invites for people’s tactic lying as a potential survival remedy in an ocean of high class, governance- naturalized lies.

As an ending remark inspired by Bok’s analysis regarding the ethics of deception, the question that arises is: What could actually in this case be the arguments against lying (Bok 2011)?



[1] For press publications in support of this observation see: AlterThes, 23.09.2010.

[2] In evidence, see the following local press online publications under references: ‘anon’ 14.01.2011; ‘anon’, 05.01.2011; ‘anon’ 09.04.2010.

[3] In connection to the 2009 and 2010 hunger strikes see ‘anon’, 14.05.2009 and anenecuilco14 03.05.2011 respectively.

[4] Initials mean “European Parliament”. For details, see article 9 of directive 2003/9/EP under references.

[5] Omissions to integrate Asylum Applicant internees to the schooling system were justified on the grounds of the minors’ fluctuating numbers, as well as on their poor linguistic competence in Greek. However, reluctance on behalf of the institution administration to launch a relevant generalized schooling plan additionally relied on fear of a contingent native parents’ reaction against the ‘intrusion’ of numerous poorly performing, foreign pupils in the classes as a handicap to their children’s educational progress (conversation with the institution direction, in June 2012).   

[6] See also the use of the term “philanthropic tolerance” in Trubeta (2010).

[7] It must be underlined that even hosts and patrons of people who regularly rent and/or work somewhere usually deny to provide them any documents in proof of their stability in a location.

[8]In the case in question, ex-minors are usually being recommended to travel back to Ioannina for a renewal of their claim. Some of those who are able to realize this journey, attempt to recur to the Konitsa institution for legal help. Some others try to resolve their confusion by taking a shorter trip to Athens, in order to pile themselves up along the queues of migrants waiting to place an asylum demand or asylum applicant bulletin renovation demand outside the central Aliens’ Police Department in “P. Ralli”. In both cases, those moves are proved to be taking place in vain, unless migrants have the seldom luck of encountering an officer who simply acts lawfully and actually renews their cards without presenting them with further complications regarding official housing contracts. For a visual documentation of conditions while queuing up outside the “P. Ralli” police department see also Reel News, 20.04.2013.

[9] In that case it moreover becomes a duty of the ‘Ministry of Health and Social Solidarity’ to provide asylum applicants with accommodation solutions. For further details on administrational complications to renew asylum claim bulletins due to lack of regular accommodation see the relevant paragraph 4.6 of the 2010 Amnesty International Report under references.

[10] For a definition of the notion of unlawful racial/ethnic profiling see also ECRI 2007: 8. 

[11] This kind of morality somehow reminds policies of private health- insurance companies that decline compensation of one’s medication costs in case where no lethal disease has been detected with the patient!



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