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Meeting on possibility to possibility to reach a bilateral agreement between the Greek and Bulgarian authorities addressing the problems of Bulgarian children in street situation in Greece, the unaccompanied minors, migrant and refugee children

2017-01-05

Within the framework of Mario Project, a Greek delegation, led by Mr. George Moschos, Deputy Ombudsman in charge of children’s rights and the representatives of ARSIS Organisation met with the Chairperson of the State Agency for Child Protection (SACP) – Ms Ofelia Kaneva, the Ombudsman of the Republic of Bulgaria – Ms. Maya Manolova and the Secretary of the National Commission for Combating Trafficking in Human Beings (NCCTHB) – Ms. Kamelia Dimitrova. Neglected Children Society – ECPAT Bulgaria initiated and organized the visits of the Greek delegation as part of the implementation of Mario Project in Bulgaria. The meetings were also attended by representatives of the Greek partner within Mario Project – Nikos Gavalas, Legal Representative of ARSIS and Valbona Histuna, Project Coordinator at ARSIS – Association for the Social Support of Youth, Thessaloniki.
 

The Greek Deputy Ombudsman in charge of children’s rights, Mr. George Moschos and representatives of ARSIS – Greece, took part in a meetings in Sofia on December 16, 2016 and discussed with Ms. Maya Manolova, Ombudsman of Bulgaria, Ms. Ofelia Kaneva, Chairperson of SACP and Ms. Kamelia Dimitrova, Secretary of NCCTHB the possibility to reach a bilateral agreement between the Greek and Bulgarian authorities addressing the problems of Bulgarian children in street situation in Greece, unaccompanied minors, migrant and refugee children.
 

Neglected Children Society – ECPAT Bulgaria, in its capacity of a national partner within the international Mario Project, organized three meetings on December 16, 2016 between the Greek delegation and relevant representatives and experts from Bulgarian authorities, working in the child rights field. The visit was initiated by ECPAT as part of the national advocacy plan of the organization and in relation to the transnational activities within the project. In the end of the third phase of the 7-year-long Mario Project, the national partners from different countries had the responsibility to organise bilateral meetings for effective cooperation between countries of origin and countries of destination, as well as to take action toward better management of cases of children on the move and children victims of violence, trafficking and exploitation in Europe. Regarding the improvement of protection measures for Bulgarian children on the move in Greece, ECPAT Bulgaria organized three meetings for the delegation from Greece, led by the Greek Deputy Ombudsman in charge of children’s rights, Mr. George Moschos. In Sofia, the meetings were kindly hosted by the Chairperson of the State Agency for Child Protection, Ms. Ofelia Kaneva, and the Ombudsman of the Republic of Bulgaria, Ms. Maya Manolova and the Secretary of the National Commission for Combating Trafficking in Human Beings, Ms. Kamelia Dimitrova. The meetings were attended by experts from the three institutions, as well as representatives of ECPAT Bulgaria. In addition to the exchange of information regarding the challenging areas and comments on the possibility for bilateral agreements, the three meetings in Bulgaria had the following goals: to present and discuss the international recommendations from the transnational research on Bulgarian children in street situation in Greece, carried out within Mario Project; to present the ideas about a European system for child protection and case management discussed in the Policy Paper, developed by Mario Project partners; to present the “Advocacy Book. Recommendations for the protection of Bulgarian children on the move in the country and in Europe”, elaborated by ECAPT Bulgaria and published within Mario Project.
 

According to the expectations raised in Mario Project, the bilateral expert meetings, supported by the results from the transnational research and the discussions about a potential bilateral cooperation, should provide the responsible state structures and organisations in the countries of origin and destination with an additional opportunity to discuss and overcome current challenges and risks children on the move are exposed to. In this sense, the bilateral expert meetings can be regarded as a platform for cooperation and joint activities to improve the protection of the identified children. It is also expected that the meetings will lead to:

  • better coordination between state institutions on a bilateral level,
  • enhanced awareness of state institutions regarding the situation of children on the move and the challenges they face,
  • establishment of mechanisms for operational cooperation on individual cases.

 

During the meetings with the Greek delegation in Sofia the following topics were raised and discussed:

clarifying the situation with the Bulgarian children on the streets in Greece – victims of exploitation, including by their families. ECPAT Bulgaria presented the Recommendations from the transnational research of Bulgarian children in street situation, which were addressed to the Bulgarian institutions and organisations;
protection of Bulgarian children at risk in Greece and problems related to the interaction between Greek and Bulgarian institutions;
possibilities to create European system for protection of children at risk, victims of trafficking and exploitation in EU Member States. ECPAT Bulgaria presented the Policy Document, which was elaborated within Mario  Project. The document lists measures to improve the protection of children in Europe and carry out better coordination between child protection systems;
possible agreement for cooperation between the State Agency for Child Protection and the Ombudsman of Greece regarding issues, which fall within the competence of both parties, as well as a cooperation agreement between the Ombudsman of Bulgaria and Greece;
presentation of the work of the State Agency for Child Protection in the area of child rights and transnational cases of children victims of trafficking and exploitation in EU Member States, difficulties in the international communication and communication with Greece; perspectives for joint work; presentation of the work of the Ombudsman of Greece in the area of child rights; initiatives to monitor and ensure protection for children at risk.
 

The following topics were raised for discussion by the experts from the State Agency for Child Protection:

 

problems with the illegal adoption of Bulgarian children in Greece;
the situation of Bulgarian children residing in Greece without identity documents;
protection of Bulgarian children abandoned by their parents;
protection of Bulgarian children taken from their parents by the Greek authorities and accommodated at different institutions and services in Greece;
problems regarding the protection of child refugees.
 

The following topics were raised for discussion by the National Commission for Combating Trafficking in Human Beings:
 

comment on the existing cases of sale of babies, Bulgarian women giving birth to children in Greece and leaving them for adoption;

information by the Greek partners about their relevant structures for prevention and combating trafficking in human beings, including trafficking in children in Europe.

The meetings between the Greek Deputy Ombudsman in charge of children’s rights and the representatives of ARSIS with the Chairperson and experts of the State Agency for Child Protection, the Ombudsman’s Office of the Republic of Bulgaria and the National Commission for Combating Trafficking in Human Beings were carried out in an exceptionally constructive manner with professional discussion on the topics concerning children at risk.
 

During all three meetings, the Greek Deputy Ombudsman in charge of children’s rights, Mr. George Moschos, presented the work of the Greek Ombudsman related to child rights, focusing on three groups of problems related to children on the move in Greece and bringing them to the attention of the Bulgarian institutions:
 

The first group of problems was related to Bulgarian children on the move in Greece. The question at hand is how the two parties will handle cases of children who move from Bulgaria to Greece and work on the streets. According to data of the Deputy Ombudsman, there are approximately 200 such cases. In his opinion, the government and police in Greece attempt to solve the problem but are not satisfied with the results so far. Mr. Moschos stated that he wanted to know what specifically happens to these children in Greece, as well as when they return to Bulgaria, as they are holders of rights.
 

The second group of problems was related to unaccompanied children arriving from third countries (including children moving from Greece to Bulgaria and from Turkey to Bulgaria). According to Mr. Moschos, there is a problem with the standards and with the provision of effective protection, health care, school attendance, participation in social life, taking children’s opinion in consideration. Data shows that there are about 3000 unaccompanied minors in Greece, whereas the specialized shelters have a capacity of 1200 places.
 

The third group of problems was related to children born in Greece by a Bulgarian mother who move to Greece to give birth and arrange for a private adoption of the newborns. According to Mr. Moschos, the Greek legislation allows this but this practice must be regulated and in this respect, he expressed interest in the establishment of bilateral cooperation. He underlined that an agreement must be signed to have these cases registered by the Bulgarian authorities. That would help stop this practice where children are regarded as a source of financial transactions and business deals. At the moment, there are approximately 500 such cases known involving children born in Greece and privately adopted, which makes them lose their status of abandoned children.
 

During the meeting with the Greek delegation at the State Agency for Child Protection, Ms. Ofelia Kaneva and the Greek Deputy Ombudsman in charge of children’s rights, Mr. George Moschos, negotiated to draft an agreement and a joint declaration between the two parties.
 

The Chairperson of the State Agency for Child Protection, Ms. Ofelia Kaneva, expressed readiness to cooperate in elaborating a bilateral agreement between Bulgaria and Greece on cases of children on the street. She underlined that a draft will be developed by March 2017 and sent to the Greek party, and she suggested that the teams which would work on the agreement from both countries should take part in joint meetings. The Greek Deputy Ombudsman took up the responsibility to support the process in Greece in setting up the team and invited representatives of the State Agency for Child Protection to visit and participate in a working meeting to develop the agreement. Ms. Kaneva took up the responsibility to finalise the discussion of specific duties on institutional level by March 2017, which will guarantee the rights of children and bilateral procedures in the future agreement between Bulgaria and Greece.
 

In the beginning of the meeting the Chairperson of the State Agency for Child Protection underlined that she hopes “for a broader and more active cooperation with the Greek side as the two countries face similar challenges”. Ms. Ofelia Kaneva also presented to the Greek delegation the priorities of the State Agency for Child Protection for 2017.
 

Ms. Kaneva also suggested to develop a joint declaration to reflect the experience of the two parties regarding the care for migrant children and to declare that these children are rights’ holders. The declaration should be related to the forthcoming agreement between Bulgaria and Greece. The Chairperson of the State Agency for Child Protection underlined that Bulgaria has good coordination between the institutions when providing support to unaccompanied children, using the possibilities offered by social services of residential type. Appropriate health and educational care is also provided but there is still more to be accomplished in this field.
 

During the meeting with the Ombudsman Ms. Maya Manolova she discussed with her Greek colleague Mr. George Moschos the problems with child rights protection in the two countries. The two of them agreed to cooperate in protecting the rights of child refugees, migrant children and unaccompanied children.
 

Ms. Maya Manolova explained that she had been in the position of Ombudsman of the Republic of Bulgaria for one year and presented the institution’s work, pointing out that the National Ombudsman of Bulgaria has direct duties to protect the citizens and the rights of children. She noted that “there has been an Ombudsman in Bulgaria for 10 years now but this is not recognized by children” and that during her predecessors’ terms the topic of child rights has been slightly aside from the work of the Ombudsman. In her opinion there were 5 000 complaints in 2015 and 11 000 in the current 2016, but only 2 or 3 complaints submitted by children. The Ombudsman underlined: “We have too many responsibilities but protecting the rights of children is my main priority. In order to be most effective in protecting the rights of children, we established a specialized unit, which is run by Ms. Eva Zhecheva, whom we invited to our team from the State Agency for Child Protection, where she used to serve as a Chairperson.” Ms. Manolova explained that together with the Deputy Ombudsman, Ms. Diana Kovacheva, former Minister of Justice, they work to improve the legislation related to juvenile justice and protection of the interests of children in all areas.
 

Mr. George Moschos informed that the Greek Ombudsman for the rights of the child reviews annually 800 complains submitted by children, visits between 20 and 30 schools and holds numerous meetings with children. He underlined that during the past 2015 he was elected Ombudsman for the rights of the child for the fourth time. Mr. Moschos explained that the Greek Ombudsman’s Office has 7 Deputy Ombudsmen and the unit responsible for child rights employs 10 experts, whereas the entire service has 170 employees. Annually there are between 11 000 and 15 000 complaints.
 

The Greek Deputy Ombudsman underlined that there is a need for a bilateral agreement with the Bulgarian Ombudsman. He informed about Mrs.Manolova abo0ut the responsibility taken up by the Chairperson of the State Agency for Child Protection to create a working group for creating a bilateral draft agreement and expressed his wish for Ms. Manolova to cooperate on that matter.
 

Mr. Moschos informed that he was a member of the European Ombudsman Association and as such he had appealed for elaboration and provision of standards regarding child rights, the necessity of guardianship to be introduced and the need of exchanging information between different countries.
 

Ms. Manolova summarized the report prepared by the Institution of the Ombudsman regarding the unaccompanied child refugees submitted to the attention of the Parliament two months before, which had recommendations to all responsible institutions. They concerned mainly the creation of safe space for unaccompanied children seeking protection. During the meeting, Ms. Manolova informed the Greek guests about the joint work with Norway within the project “Capacity building of the Ombudsman of the Republic of Bulgaria for independent monitoring and promotion of child rights”. Another topic for discussion during the meeting with the Greek Deputy Ombudsman was the forthcoming establishment of a Balkan network of Ombudsman in South-eastern Europe which Ms. Manolova had already discussed with the Ombudsmen of Macedonia and Serbia. Mr. Moschos informed that the question has recently been discussed in Skopje and he has suggested a joint Ombudsman meeting in May-June 2017 focusing on “all Ombudsman together for child rights”.
 

Ms. Eva Zhecheva shared that great results have been achieved regarding children victims of trafficking and exploitation in Bulgaria in contrast to the situation with child refugees. In her opinion, challenges first appear at the moment of identification of children at the border and later – with the coordination between the institutions. In Ms. Zhecheva’s opinion, resolving the problem requires coordination on a European level; strong national network to protect children in every European state and a systems of contact points in every EU Member State, when there are cases of children in a transnational situation. She also noted that in the future the Ombudsman would carry out independent monitoring of the implementation of the Coordination Mechanism for children victims of trafficking and child refuges, as well as all cases of children on the move.
 

Mr. Moschos expressed his wish that the Bulgarian Ombudsman would play the role of a strong communicator in the future joint activities between Bulgaria and Greece regarding the rights of children on the move.
 

During the meeting with the Secretary and the experts from the National Commission for Combating Trafficking in Human Beings the group discussed the problems of Bulgarian children and adolescent – victims of trafficking and exploitation in Greece, the specific problems of begging children and Roma children and adolescents on the streets of Greece, as well as the the situation with Bulgarian women giving birth in Greece and the respective practice of private adoptions.
 

The Report of the most important activities against trafficking in human beings, prepared by Maria Ververidou, senior expert at the Office of the National Rapporteur on Trafficking in Human Beings within the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Greece was presented during the meeting. The document outlines the legal and institutional framework of the fight against trafficking in human beings in Greece, the main areas of engagement; the development of the legal framework and the mechanism for identification of victims of trafficking; the interinstitutional cooperation against trafficking in human beings; the cooperation with the private sector; public awareness campaigns and training on the rights of children in schools; the creation of a parliamentary sub-committee on the issues of trafficking in human beings.
 

The Greek representatives and the National Commission for Combating Trafficking in Human Beings agreed to cooperate in the area of protection of the rights of victims of trafficking, refugees, migrants, victims of labour and sexual exploitation, as well as to exchange information and establish a partnership between the Greek Office for monitoring and combating trafficking in human beings and the National Commission for Combating Trafficking in Human Beings.
 

At all three meetings between the Greek delegation and the State Agency for Child Protection, the Ombudsman of the Republic of Bulgaria and the National Commission for Combating Trafficking in Human Beings ECPAT Bulgaria presented its “Advocacy Book. Recommendations for the protection of Bulgarian children on the move in the country and in Europe”. The document outlines the problems regarding the protection of children on the move in Europe and was elaborated by Neglected Children Society – ECPAT Bulgarian within Mario 3 Project with the financial support of the OAK Foundation. The Advocacy Book presents an analysis from a survey on the problems of the Crisis Centres for children victims of trafficking and violence in Bulgaria and the recommendations to improve the care for children accommodated at these Centres; recommendations from transnational research within Mario Project on Bulgarian children in street situation in Greece; recommendations included in a Policy Document by the Mario Project partners to improve protection of children in Europe and create a European system for management of transnational cases of children on the move.
 

The three meetings of the Greek representatives with the Bulgarian institutions took place within the framework of the transnational activities of the Mario Project – Joint action to protect children on the move from violence, trafficking and exploitation in Europe, financed by the OAK Foundation, coordinated by Terre des Hommes, Hungary and implemented by the national partner in Bulgaria Neglected Children Society – ECPAT Bulgaria.

 

16 December, 2016, Sofia