Greece: A missing Syrian girl at risk is located only a few hours after her disappearance

31 August 2018

Refugee and migrant minors at risk in Greece receive protection, prevention and direct intervention services by The Smile of the Child with the support of the EU Humanitarian Aid © The Smile of the Child / Ilias Spyropoulos


Amira was 10 years old when she and her family fled Syria. The shadow of war has dramatically changed the once normal life they had back in their home country. While tensions and conflicts were escalating her mother decided to take all children and search for safety and protection away from the bombings and dire reality of the Syrian war.

The route to Turkey was filled with adversities and risks. Following months of a perilous journey and repeated attempts, the family of Amira managed to reach one of the Greek islands by putting their lives at risk, while making the dangerous crossing of the Aegean Sea.

Today, this belongs to the past and Amira, now a 14-year-old girl, lives with her mother and siblings in an apartment in downtown Athens. However, the consequences of war and migration are still present in their daily reality. Amira is still among the many refugee children who do not attend school. She has no friends and she hardly goes out. The war turned her life upside down and Amira was exhibiting the symptoms of heavy psychological pressure and loneliness in her new living environment.

It was late evening on the 24th of May when the staff of “The Smile of the Child” at the European Hotline for Missing Children 116000 received a report for a 14-year-old girl who had gone missing a few hours earlier in the center of Athens. The missing child was Amira, who ran away from home in the middle of the night without saying anything to anyone and had ever since disappeared.

Her mother reported the incident to the Hellenic Police. Social workers and psychologists at the Operational Emergency Center of the Organization initiated all the procedures for the search and rescue of a missing child and provided guidance to the family with the help of one of our interpreters.

“In cooperation with the authorities, we acted immediately as we always do when it comes to any missing child by gathering information from the family on the conditions of Amira’s disappearance”, explains Eleni Papaspyrou, social worker at the 116000 line. It turned out that Amira had left the apartment in the middle of the night, unnoticed by her mother and siblings who were sleeping.

“It was crystal clear to us and the Police that the 14-year-old girl was at immediate risk. It was what we call a worrying disappearance for which all our forces, infrastructure and mechanisms in place had to be mobilized”, she adds.

Only a few hours have gone by, and the Police authorities gave us with the green light for the launch of an Amber Alert for the missing girl. Amber Alert Hellas is a mechanism that aims at the immediate and timely notification of citizens on missing and abducted children. This mechanism is coordinated by “The Smile of the Child” in Greece.

More specifically, this tool is based on the US model of Amber Alert and its operation builds upon the partnership of various public and private actors and authorities including law enforcement, the media, Internet service providers, mobile telephone companies and operators, social media channels and volunteering actors who have the capacity to disseminate information on a missing child at risk to the public in a timely fashion. 

The mother of Amira soon agreed to the need to proceed with a publicity appeal. We proceeded with the creation of missing posters in Greek, English and Arabic in order to spread information publicly. At the same time, the partners of Amber Alert Hellas diffused the relevant material on the child disappearance case, whereas a SMS message was sent to all subscribed users of Amber Alert.

The missing alert for Amira was shared with all local users of Facebook through its partnership in Greece with “The Smile of the Child”, while the Search and Rescue Volunteer Team of “Thanasis Makris”, staffed by internationally certified dogs and their handlers, was immediately mobilized.  

Soon after and thanks to the wide mobilization the 116000 line received leads from sensitized citizens that we forwarded to the police authorities. However, we had not been able to locate missing Amira until the time we received a lead from a person who had seen the missing poster of the girl and recognized her wandering around in the center of Athens.

We immediately informed the authorities who rushed to the area and identified the missing girl. The girl was accompanied by the staff of the Organization to the Hospital in order to undertake medical examinations. The Amber Alert was over, and the missing posters had to be removed. Amira was finally located and most importantly, she was safe and sound.

In the presence of the interpreter of the Organization our team remained next to the child, as well as to family by providing the necessary support and counseling during the hospitalization of the 14-year-old child and even after the return back home.

Following the direct mobilization through the Amber Alert Hellas mechanism, as well as the activation of a network of interconnected infrastructure and actions for the search and rescue of missing children, we managed to timely identify a missing minor at risk and in need of protection.

With the help of the project “Direct and Holistic Medical and Psychosocial Intervention for Refugee and Migrant Children in Danger in Greece”, funded by the European Union Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations department that “The Smile of the Child” is implementing, refugee and migrant minors in Greece receive immediate and holistic protection and prevention services.

In the framework of this project, we receive named and anonymous reports that we pass to the authorities, we activate procedures of protection and care, we proceed to direct interventions for children at risk and we provide counselling support, interpretation services via telephone, guidance and interconnection through the 1056, 116000 and 116111 childlines, all three interconnected with the 112 European Emergency Number, and other services of the Organization.

From April to August 2018 “The Smile of the Child” has proceeded with a publicity appeal for 28 refugee and migrant missing children at risk, whereas for the case of Amira Amber Alert Hellas was successfully activated.

*Names have been changed to protect identities

Story by “The Smile of the Child”- Photo © Ilias Spyropoulos