Our VoiceNews & Politics

Migrant Children in Greece:Unintended Victims of the “War on Terror”

Ana Turck • Feb 22, 2009

Collateral Damage is one of those terms that we learn to use when talking about wars, but we seldom, if ever, stop to think what it entails. It’s a nice word that helps obscure the true nature of wars, and it desensitizes the general public to the plight of those directly affected by them.

Discourse on “unintended victims of war” is used as a crutch in arguments against wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and for the most part that is where it stops. “Collateral Damage” is treated as an inevitable by-product of war, and as such the vast scope of human tragedy remains unexamined, making it easy for most people to accept the terror tactics of their own governments without questioning.

The least examined groups of victims of wars are those too weak to fend for themselves, but are proclaimed to be the most cherished in all societies. It’s the children of wars that are the silent and the silenced ones, in their own countries and the countries they escape to for the hope of protection and better life.

A recent report by Human Rights Watch on the horrifying mistreatment of unaccompanied migrant children in Greece illustrates the failure of the International Community to safeguard the most vulnerable in society. In Greece, the largest portion of migrant children comes from Pakistan, Iraq and Afghanistan, fleeing wars and abuse. The majority is between 10-16 years old, and they rely solely on themselves for survival. Once they enter Greece they are systemically abused and in many instances tortured and terrorized by border patrol, legal and penal system as well as the general public.

As undocumented immigrants they are detained in prisons for three months with adult criminals, without any legal representation or medical help. Their road to imprisonment is riddled with stories of mock executions, gang beatings, and water-boarding, all perpetrated and/or sanctioned by the government. Once in prison, they are victims of more violence and physical neglect.

After release they are left to fend for themselves since their undocumented status does not allow access to the few existing services that could help them. The asylum option is the only way for these children to get some kind of protection, but without legal advisory only few can become documented. Most fall prey to sexual exploitation or crime, and many are absorbed by a slave labor system.

The issue of unaccompanied migrant children is not new to Greece. The systemic violation of Human Rights and inaction of the Greek government to stop abuse and protect these children was exposed in the early 1990s. Since then, Greece has received little more than a public slap on the wrist, revealing the European Union’s hypocrisy pertaining to the protection of Human Rights. Eastern European Countries jockeying for admittance in European Union are held, rightfully so, to a high degree of scrutiny regarding their violations of Human Rights. However, the European Member countries such as Greece, and their failure to safeguard basic rights, are rarely scrutinized and held accountable.

The failure to protect undocumented immigrant children is not a European failure alone. The United States and Bush’s legacy of a “War on Terror” left a moral vacuum, further eroding Human Rights everywhere. The United States helped set the precedent and gave a public nod to violations of children’s rights everywhere, with unlawful detention and torture of a then fourteen year old Canadian citizen in Guantanamo.

Many in this country, as well as those around the globe, help perpetuate violations of children’s human and civil rights by being complacent and disinterested in the power of words. How we talk about things helps create reality. Disregarding the depth and scope of experience of victims of war, including those of the “War on Terror,” by accepting the term “Collateral Damage” at its face value, helps maintain the status quo.

We should ask ourselves if torture and the killing of human beings, including children, for the sake of perceived safety, is showing our evolution as a species, or are we just deceiving ourselves? If we can ask that question of ourselves, then the choice is ours. And so is the responsibility to fight for Human Rights of everyone, everywhere. No exceptions.

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