Minister urged to resign over ‘appalling’ child migrant conditions

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Reports of ‘appalling’ living conditions of unaccompanied migrant children at the Pournara reception centre have main opposition party AKEL demanding that Interior Minister Nicos Nouris resign.

AKEL, on Friday, demanded that Nouris steps down “for not fulfilling the ministry’s humanitarian obligation”.

The left-wing party’s criticism was backed by the Green Party, which noted that children’s rights should be respected regardless of their origin.

The opposition’s reaction follows two damning reports from the Commissioner for Children’s rights, Despo Michaelidou, and Ombudswoman Maria Stylianou Lottides.

On Thursday, Michaelidou said she had instructed authorities to improve the living conditions of minors at the overcrowded camp without any action being taken.

She said in her office has been told by these children that: “At breakfast, they are given a small piece of bread without anything to drink.

“In the afternoon, they are given a small bottle of water to last them the whole day”.

Michaelidou said living conditions at the centre are “appalling and unhygienic”.

“Each room is shared by 15 people, with two people sharing one bed, while some children have to sleep on blankets on the floor”.

She added that 300 children have to share two toilets and one shower.

“The children said that every day is the same, without any activities, no schooling, while their anxiety over their future grows.”

Michaelidou intervened after 30 children left the camp in protest on Wednesday night because promises given by authorities that they would be moved had not been kept.

On Friday, the Ombudswoman’s issued a report, pointing out that Pournara centre is overpopulated.

There is no running hot water, sewerage systems malfunction due to overcrowding, and there are insufficient quarantine areas for people found positive to COVID-19.

“All these have an impact on the residents’ mental and physical health.”

AKEL asked the government to justify why no action has been taken despite being given €4 mln by the EU to improve the Pournara and €3 mln to create a reception centre for unaccompanied minors.

It called on those responsible “to take immediate action to end the appalling situation that prevails in Pournara, which is an offence to humanity”.

Claims refuted

Interior Minister Nicos Nouris argued that authorities had improved the Pournara centre, which “can now accommodate up to 100 minors”.

Nouris defended his ministry, arguing that “due to the increased flows, we took care to create additional spaces in other parts of the centre, so as not to allow children to mix with adults”.

He also pointed out that the number of unaccompanied minors arriving in the Republic in the first two months tripled to 166 compared to the 49 in January and February last year.

Regarding hygiene, Nouris said there are six built-in toilets and three showers available for minors, and they get three square meals daily.

Responding to the Commissioner’s claims that children at the camp are deprived of education and activities, Nouris said Pournara is a front-line reception centre and cannot provide such facilities.

Nouris said that the money sent by the EU for the creation of a centre for unaccompanied minors had been given to the Hope for Children organisation established one in old Nicosia.

He added that the €4 mln given for improving Pournara covered operating and food expenses.

The Interior Ministry said in a statement that 214 of the 356 minors who have been processed should have been relocated by Social Welfare Services but haven’t because “appropriate accommodation has not been found.”