METAdrasi’s Guardianship Network for Unaccompanied Minors

METAdrasi’s Guardianship Network for Unaccompanied Minors

Copyright: © METAdrasi

When 14-year-old Ali Reza, from Afghanistan, is asked about the guardian who has helped him transition to a new life in Europe, he says “a smile forms on my lips”. “She presents my challenges and problems in such a way that she makes me believe that ultimately they mean nothing, and that I can achieve everything in the end,” he says.

Around 20,000 unaccompanied and separated children arrived in Europe (Greece, Italy, Spain and Bulgaria) in 2017, according to Unicef.
Having made the difficult journey from his home country all the way to Greece, Ali Reza was isolated and depressed and in need of emotional and practical support. And that’s where the Guardianship Network for Unaccompanied Minors, run by the Greek NGO METAdrasi, came in.

The network trains and coordinates professional guardians across the country to provide support to lone children, safeguard their rights and give them some semblance of normality in their lives. With funding from the European Programme for Integration and Migration (EPIM) – which was co-created by the King Baudouin Foundation and now brings together 24 other foundations – the network has been able to expand its work, which spans five border islands and seven mainland locations.

“When I arrived at the Reception and Identification Center I was feeling very depressed. My guardian kept me company. She brought me a ball to play with and books. Later on, she brought me shoes and clothes and she helped me get a new pair of glasses, as the ones I had were smashed during the journey,” continues Ali Reza. “She arranged for me to be treated by a psychologist and undertook my asylum and family reunification claims. When I was ill, she took me to a doctor and bought me medicines. She also encouraged me to enrol in Greek language courses and helped me overcome the difficulties I had in learning Greek at the start.”

Building trust

Claire Pavlaki has witnessed a similar process many times, having worked as a guardian on the island of Samos in 2016/17, when migrant flows were at a peak. She recalls escorting a young migrant – also from Afghanistan – to be reunited with his uncle in Brussels, as being an emotional end to his long journey. The 13 year old had spent 12 months under Claire’s care in Samos, during which time they built a relationship of trust while she helped him through the complex bureaucracy of getting back into the arms of his family.
“ It’s really important to finish a case and complete your work, from the first step until they reach a safe place. You’ve not only fulfilled your role, but carried out their wishes.”

With support from EPIM’s ‘Never Alone: Building our future with children and youth arriving in Europe’ fund, METAdrasi trained more guardians to help give this kind of protection, personal support and guidance to the thousands of children who find themselves alone in Greece each year after often traumatic journeys from the homes they’ve left behind. It gives the children – who are living in camps, detention centers, accommodation shelters, or are homeless – a trusted point of contact to hear their concerns and help them with legal, practical and wellbeing issues, explains Claire.

“Important progress”

METAdrasi’s work fills crucial gaps in public services for unaccompanied and separated children. During a time that Greece has been struggling to meet refugees’ basic needs, “the recognition of the vital importance of unaccompanied children’s guardians was an achievement for METAdrasi,” said Guardianship Network manager Eudokia Grillaki. “EPIM’s support enabled us to expand the network all over Greece, and improve their capacity-building.” In the Greek system, unaccompanied and separated children are the legal responsibility of public prosecutors, and it’s under their authority that the guardians have been working.

In 2018, a new law was signed concerning guardianship, and a tripartite agreement has now been signed between METAdrasi, UNHCR and the Greek Ministry of Social Security & Labor, for the gradual transfer of responsibility, skills and knowledge from METAdrasi to the state. Although the process isn’t yet completed, the NGO is “proud to have contributed to this progress,” said METAdrasi president Lora Pappa. “The culmination of our work will be the day that all unaccompanied children in Greece will have their own guardian, who will ensure their protection,” she added.


METAdrasi was founded in 2010 to provide reception and integration services for refugees and migrants arriving in Greece that weren’t covered by the public sector or other NGOs.
• It works mainly in two areas – interpretation services in more than 40 languages and dialects, and the protection of unaccompanied children and other vulnerable groups.
• The Guardianship Network peaked at nearly 70 members, who have professional backgrounds ranging from psychology to law.