Frontex ‘mistakenly qualifies minors as adults’ in Greek islands
An African asylum seeker incorrectly registered as an adult by a Frontex border guard last year still grapples with this mistake.
“Right now I’m just a matter of survival,” ‘William’ (not his real name) told EUobserver during a Zoom call from Athens on April 30.
His lawyer in Greece, Elli Kriona Saranti, filed his case with the European Court of Human Rights, but for reasons related to his quarantine conditions at Chrysi Ammos.
William has since been able to prove that he was indeed only 17 when he arrived, after Saranti helped get his birth certificate later.
But by then it was too late.
He had been sent to the adult section of Moria, an EU hotspot turned migrant ghetto on the Greek island of Lesvos.
There he was brutalized, he said, because of his homosexuality. The camp finally burned to the ground in September of last year.
“Forgive me, I don’t want to go into details,” he said, before walking away.
Minos Mouzourakis, lawyer at Refugee Support Aegean, says William’s case is not unique.
He accused Frontex of systemic violations during the selection process of asylum seekers arriving in the Greek islands.
“Frontex registers people as adults even when they claim to be minors,” he said in an email.
Mouzourakis brought similar accusations to the European Parliament last month.
He said Frontex agents often did not keep records of those who protested against incorrect information.
And minors who are declared adults are not subject to an assessment of their age by the Greek authorities, he said.
This means that they are not able to demonstrate that they protested the decision in the first place.
Unlike William, most don’t even speak English.
EU Charter of Fundamental Rights
These practices, if proven, constitute a violation of the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights.
Among other things, the charter guarantees the right to good administration, to an effective remedy and to the best interests of the child.
All are raped by Frontex, said Mouzourakis.
William among them. He was born at the beginning of December 2002. But his registration form filled out by Frontex indicated 2001, which made him “older” by a year.
William had contested the age Frontex had given him. But the date of 2001 stuck, making life more expensive and more difficult today.
Frontex denies this accusation.
His spokesperson said there are cases where smugglers tell underage migrants to declare they are older to avoid being held in a closed reception center.
“Or the other way around: an elderly person can declare themselves a minor to benefit from the privileges associated with this status,” the spokesperson said in an email.
He said that when in doubt, Frontex agents always refer the case back to the Greek authorities for an age assessment.
William’s attorney, Saranti, disputes this explanation.
“There may be cases where children have been told by smugglers to declare that they are adults,” she said.
But she says there are also multiple complaints, often even immediately after registration, by children who declared their actual age and who were still registered as adults by Frontex.
“The issue was raised during meetings with the RIC [reception and identification centre] several times during the four years I worked on the [Lesbos] island, ”she said.
Today William is in Athens. But he initially left his home country in East Africa because he is gay.
He asked to remain anonymous, fearing any backlash, and that his African state not be identified either.
EUobserver has not been able to independently confirm the following events surrounding its story. But his age turned out to be true.
Bus at the Turkish-Greek border
He arrived on a flight to Turkey on Friday March 6, 2020. He checked into a hotel and was quickly approached by two Turkish police officers.
The following Monday, he was dragged onto a bus by Turkish police and taken to the Greek land border. He had no idea where he was going, he said.
But his arrival in Istanbul had coincided with Turkey’s decision to transport thousands of people to the Greek land border, triggering a geopolitical crisis.
“When I got off [the bus] I asked for my passport and tried to ask them in English, ”he said of the Turkish police.
The Turkish officer ignored him and instead pointed to a route to the Greek border with Evros, he said.
“Then I tried to ask where that is again and the guy just pushed us off the bus,” William said.
The buses then turned around and left.
Without a passport and not knowing what was going on, he started walking towards Greece with the others.
“I have no choice but to join and follow these other people,” he said. He said the Turks told them Greece opened the border. They stayed at the border for a few days, sleeping in the streets by the river.
A Syrian smuggler then approached William, promising to help him in exchange for $ 300. William paid with the $ 1,200 he had with him.
He was then driven to Çanakkale, a port city in northwestern Turkey.
He agreed to pay another smuggler $ 800 to cross the Aegean Sea to Greece on an inflatable dinghy.
He waited a few days for eight other passengers to show up.
They were taken to another site and put in a mess. But a Greek coast guard intercepted them at sea, forcing them back.
William said the Greek boat was making big waves near and around them.
The Greeks shouted through a megaphone, another threatened to pierce the filth and another pulled out a gun, William said.
They returned to Turkey, where, a few days later, they attempted again at night and on a more navigable boat.
On March 22, they landed on the rocky slope of Lesbos near Mantamados. The small group was spotted by Frontex agents from Germany, he said.
They were taken to a main road where they slept outside and offered blankets and small provisions by a person from the United Nations refugee agency. The next morning, they were placed in a two-week quarantine near Chrysi Ammos Beach with no toilets or tents.
“They couldn’t go to the toilet at night because there were snakes,” said his lawyer, Saranti.
The small group of nine was later joined by others, and expanded to 32.
On April 10, the Greek coast registered his coordinates, including his age of 17. He was kept in quarantine until April 27.
“They came at night and put us on buses and drove us to Moria,” said William, arriving around 3 am.
Frontex inserts “ adulthood ”
Frontex then registered them one by one. On William’s turn, he said the officer refused to write that he was 17.
“I asked him, ‘Excuse me, this is not my date of birth.’ He wrote for me in 2001,” he said.
Unable to produce a passport, William signed the registration document.
He was then sent to the so-called “Jungle” of Moria with the adults.
A birth certificate, validated as authentic, later proved that he was indeed a minor. He was reassessed as a juvenile on June 26 – but was not transferred to the Moria juvenile section until July 8.
About a month later, he was taken to a shelter in Athens. When he was 18, they gave him an apartment and started going to school. But the administrative nightmare does not end.
As an adult, William receives a United Nations credit card to help pay for food.
He obtained the card when Frontex incorrectly declared him an adult. He was later kidnapped when it turned out to be a minor.
But now that he’s an adult again, he still can’t get the UN payment card because the system says he already received the card. “I’m having trouble getting the payment card here because in the system it shows that I used to have a card before,” he said.
Without any income, he has been relying on food distributions from others for a month and a half.
“If I was registered correctly then I would already have a card but now here. I do not know, it is difficult. I cannot say for sure that tomorrow I will have a cup of tea,” he said. -he declares.