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A Place to Belong: The Worlds of Unaccompanied Minors in Greece

Three Former Unaccompanied Minors

Three young refugees from Afghanistan (left, center) and Iran (right) who arrived in Greece as unaccompanied minors in 2016 pose for a photo in Victoria Square, a hub of activity for Athens's Afghan communities. Image by Divya Mishra. Greece, 2018. 

Three young refugees from Afghanistan (left, center) and Iran (right) who arrived in Greece as unaccompanied minors in 2016 pose for a photo in Victoria Square, a hub of activity for Athens's Afghan communities. Image by Divya Mishra. Greece, 2018. 

Former Unaccompanied Minor with Cell Phone

An 18-year-old Pakistani who arrived as an unaccompanied minor on Lesbos island in 2016 scrolls through his cell phone in Solidarity Now's transitional housing for 18-21 year old youth. Image by Divya Mishra. Greece, 2018. 

An 18-year-old Pakistani who arrived as an unaccompanied minor on Lesbos island in 2016 scrolls through his cell phone in Solidarity Now's transitional housing for 18-21 year old youth. Image by Divya Mishra. Greece, 2018. 

Youth in Bangladeshi Market

Neighborhoods around Omonia Square in Central Athens are home to older waves of Pakistani and Bangladeshi migrants. These communities connect interested unaccompanied refugee minors to informal income generating opportunities, including exploitative arrangements such as farm labor, sex work, and drug markets. A group of young migrants are pictured together in a Bangladeshi neighborhood. Image by Divya Mishra. Greece, 2018. 

Neighborhoods around Omonia Square in Central Athens are home to older waves of Pakistani and Bangladeshi migrants. These communities connect interested unaccompanied refugee minors to informal income generating opportunities, including exploitative arrangements such as farm labor, sex work, and drug markets. A group of young migrants are pictured together in a Bangladeshi neighborhood. Image by Divya Mishra. Greece, 2018.

“Lighthouse Relief”

A single light beside a door signals that the house is site of transactional sex. Some refugees dub these houses “Lighthouse Relief,” after the humanitarian organization Lighthouse Relief that rescued boats of refugees in the Aegean. Faced with a desperate lack of resources, unaccompanied minors turn to sex work for as little as 20-30 Euros per client. Image by Divya Mishra. Greece, 2018. 

A single light beside a door signals that the house is site of transactional sex. Some refugees dub these houses “Lighthouse Relief,” after the humanitarian organization Lighthouse Relief that rescued boats of refugees in the Aegean. Faced with a desperate lack of resources, unaccompanied minors turn to sex work for as little as 20-30 Euros per client. Image by Divya Mishra. Greece, 2018. 

Pakistani youth in Marathona

An 18-year-old Pakistani sits outside his shack in the village of Marathona, 40 km from Athens, overlooking the fields where he worked since the age of 16. Youth laboring in these fields are often isolated from humanitarian assistance and can be abused by overseers, or have their pay withheld. Image by Divya Mishra. Greece, 2018. 

An 18-year-old Pakistani sits outside his shack in the village of Marathona, 40 km from Athens, overlooking the fields where he worked since the age of 16. Youth laboring in these fields are often isolated from humanitarian assistance and can be abused by overseers, or have their pay withheld. Image by Divya Mishra. Greece, 2018. 

Escape games

A youth center in Central Athens offers a computer room for refugee youth between the ages of 16-21, most of whom are unaccompanied minors. Staff discussed the possibility of purchasing a video game requested by some of the youth. The space is intended to offer youth an escape from the darker aspects of their lives. Image by Divya Mishra. Greece, 2018. 

A youth center in Central Athens offers a computer room for refugee youth between the ages of 16-21, most of whom are unaccompanied minors. Staff discussed the possibility of purchasing a video game requested by some of the youth. The space is intended to offer youth an escape from the darker aspects of their lives. Image by Divya Mishra. Greece, 2018. 

What gets you through?

During an art therapy session, unaccompanied minors were asked to draw or write things that get them through each day. A 17-year-old Afghan drew a tree with what he identified as grapes, along with the words hope and family. The grapes on the tree symbolized alcohol, he said. Early initiation of substance abuse is linked to adverse childhood experiences, which are ubiquitous among unaccompanied minors. Image by Divya Mishra. Greece, 2018. 

During an art therapy session, unaccompanied minors were asked to draw or write things that get them through each day. A 17-year-old Afghan drew a tree with what he identified as grapes, along with the words hope and family. The grapes on the tree symbolized alcohol, he said. Early initiation of substance abuse is linked to adverse childhood experiences, which are ubiquitous among unaccompanied minors. Image by Divya Mishra. Greece, 2018. 

“They don’t want me”

Once they turn 18, unaccompanied refugee youth risk being sent to adult camps far from Athens, where they often lack the opportunities to integrate into Greek society. Accommodations for young adult males are scarce, and unaccompanied youth do not have a say in where they get accommodations once they turn 18, if they get accommodations at all. Image by Divya Mishra. Greece, 2018. 

Once they turn 18, unaccompanied refugee youth risk being sent to adult camps far from Athens, where they often lack the opportunities to integrate into Greek society. Accommodations for young adult males are scarce, and unaccompanied youth do not have a say in where they get accommodations once they turn 18, if they get accommodations at all. Image by Divya Mishra. Greece, 2018. 

In order to survive in their host country, unaccompanied minors in Greece move through a myriad of formal and informal institutions and spaces, each with different norms, cultures, and languages. These youth congregate in immigrant neighborhoods where they seek support from other migrants of similar ethnolinguistic backgrounds. Barred from working legally and with no access to the cash assistance adult refugees receive, many unaccompanied minors risk exploitation and violence in the sex trade and agriculture. They also turn to humanitarian organizations that support unaccompanied refugee children. At the mercy of organizations that struggle to secure them housing, these youth may find themselves in isolated camps far from urban centers, or they risk becoming homeless.