Greek Guardian Leaves Law To Help Aid Migrant Children Thousands of refugee children are traveling alone through Europe. A 30-year-old woman helps some who arrive on the Greek island of Lesbos, a main gateway into the European Union for asylum-seekers.
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Greek Guardian Leaves Law To Help Aid Migrant Children

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Greek Guardian Leaves Law To Help Aid Migrant Children

Greek Guardian Leaves Law To Help Aid Migrant Children

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SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

The great migration of asylum seekers to Europe includes thousands of unaccompanied minors, children who risk being exploited, kidnapped and even trafficked. Their first step in the European Union is often the Greek island of Lesbos. Joanna Kakissis met a young Greek lawyer there who's trying to guide these children to safety.

(SOUNDBITE OF CROSSTALK)

JOANNA KAKISSIS, BYLINE: Three teenage boys are lugging boxes of donated shoes into a stately old house in the town of Mytilene. Two of the boys are Syrian, the other Algerian, residents of this safe house for underage migrants traveling alone. It's run by a Greek nonprofit called METAdrasi. It has social workers, psychologists and interpreters on duty - and guardians like Christina Dimakou, a 30-year-old lawyer in black-framed glasses. She shows me around.

CHRISTINA DIMAKOU: So this way.

Here, we have right now six boys and three girls so nine children in total.

KAKISSIS: Where are they from?

DIMAKOU: They are from Syria, Morocco, Algeria and Afghanistan and Somalia.

KAKISSIS: Dimakou left a law career in Athens to work with the children. In Greece, a district attorney is supposed to be the temporary legal guardian of migrant children.

DIMAKOU: He is just responsible for signing any paperwork or taking any decision that have to do with a child, but he never meets them personally, for example.

KAKISSIS: So METAdrasi created this guardian program to help kids with registration, asylum requests and medical questions. Most of the children are between 11 and 17 years old.

DIMAKOU: No matter how strong they are or what purposes they have in life or what they have been told, they need to be taken care of.

KAKISSIS: Dimakou is especially concerned about the girls.

DIMAKOU: Trafficking is my main concern. What I'm telling them is never go away with someone if it's not a parent, a brother, a cousin or somebody you really, really trust and known since you have been 2 years old.

KAKISSIS: If she cannot persuade them to stay in another safe house in Greece, she tries to verify that the people they're going to meet in other countries are legitimate. She warns them about people who say oh, well, you can pay me for the journey later.

DIMAKOU: You can imagine how it is at 3 o'clock in the morning to receive messages from children that are asking for help from somewhere else around Europe. And the only answer that you can give them is that I don't have the power to help you over there.

KAKISSIS: In a bright living room with wall paintings of Superman and Spider-Man, we meet a shy 16-year-old Somali girl who gives her name as Ayana. She draws flowers and hearts on a blue poster board - and the few words of English she knows.

AYANA: I love you. In Somali. (Speaking Somali).

KAKISSIS: Ayana won't say where she wants to go, but most kids have a destination in mind. Ali is a baby-faced 17-year-old from Homs, Syria. He wants to reunite with his best friend.

Where do you want to go?

ALI: Germany.

KAKISSIS: Through an interpreter, he says his parents are in a refugee camp in Lebanon.

ALI: (Through interpreter) There is no work in Lebanon, so I didn't want my family to support me all the time so I decided to go and find a job and work.

KAKISSIS: But tonight, Ali and Ayana are just kids. They count in English as they bounce around a Nerf ball with the other children. Burgers and fries have just been delivered, and everyone, including Christina Dimakou, is laughing.

For NPR News, I'm Joanna Kakissis on Lesbos.

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