Events Hephaestus Wien

Event-meeting with Embassies in Greece to enhance cooperation in Child Protection and Consular Assistance 

By the Embassy of Belgium in Greece and “The Smile of the Child”

On Thursday, 13 June, the EU Presidency -currently observed by the Belgian Embassy- co-organized a meeting with “The Smile of the Child” on consular cooperation focused on strengthening in the field of child protection entitled “Enhancing Cooperation in Child Protection and Consular Assistance”, at the Panhellenic Coordinating Operational Center for Direct Social & Medical Intervention “Andreas Yannopoulos”.

The Embassies of Austria, Belgium, Croatia, Finland, France, Germany, Ireland, Lithuania, Romania, Slovakia, Spain, Switzerland, The Netherlands, Ukraine, Australia, Canada and the USA participated with a review of cooperation of the past and explored ways and challenges for cooperation in the futurein the interest of children, missing or in need of assistance.

“The Smile of the Child” presented the services and help mechanisms it operates, followed by an open discussion between embassy representatives and Organization’s staff, in full and mutual recognition that concrete cooperation among embassy consular departments and “The Smile of the Child” is beneficial for all, first and foremost children in need. The services of “The Smile of the Child” aiming at defending and safeguarding the rights and well-being of children, are always at the disposal of embassy consular services, to the benefit of children of foreign nationality who temporarily or permanently sojourn in Greece.

Mr. Costas Yannopoulos, President of the Board of “The Smile of the Child”, welcomed the attendees, gave a tour to them, of the Emergency Intervention Center of the 4 Hot/Helplines of the Organization in Athens [1056, 116000, 116111, 1017], where he interactively presented the tools available to the “Smile” and all the ways of immediate response in cases of disappearances or crises.  Mr. Yannopoulos said “‘The Smile of the Child’ was created by a child with a dream for all children to smile -as he had written in his diary- “they are all are children and deserve to smile”. Circumstances are changing and we too must adapt to these changes and shield ourselves as best we can, expanding our collaboration between us, discussing concerns and providing solutions to ensure that all children in our country live as safe and protected as possible. Thank you for your presence and for your contribution to this important effort”.

The meeting started with Ms. Anna Hajdu, deputy Head of Mission and Consul of Belgium, who, after thanking the Organization for coordinating and organizing the event, gave a short welcome address and said  Under the Belgian Presidency of the EU, one of the consular initiatives in Brussels was to consult with all Member States, on good practices and associated challenges of handling international child abduction. It was discussed to appoint a local lawyer, who is in a better position to give advice, but also local staff of embassies can play a role in advising on cultural sensitivities in delicate cases. It was considered useful for organizations and institutions, to be able to play a primary role in cases specializing in issues concerning children and families, such as child victims of domestic violence, disappearance, etc. We found it very useful to connect with “The Smile of the Child”, a specialized organization, well established and recognized, with institutional, local and international partnerships, institutions, etc. that have valuable information and advice to share”.

A short introduction on the reason for the meeting was given by Ambassador (H) Mr. Marc Van den Reeck, volunteer and Head of International Cooperation of the Organization and former Ambassador of Belgium to Greecewho highlighted the main reasons for this meeting “This is the third time that we are organizing this type of event as conditions change. It is crucial to renew our contacts and cooperation in this context. In recent years, tourism in Greece has increased -indicatively the number of tourists who came from Belgium in the years 2000, 2005 and 2023 is almost triple tripled- and behind these numbers, there are people, there are families and behind these families there are children, who regardless of their nationality, their passport, their religion- are on Greek land. Furthermore, the nature of expatriation has changed, which due to its now ephemeral nature today, increases the vulnerability of a foreigner living in Greece -due to language, mentality, etc.  And finally, added to our concerns is the danger of the complexity of society, due to social media, etc.  

“For all these reasons, the “Smile” is there for you, with all the logistical means at its disposal, to help you with its people, with its expertise, to help you, help your communities”.

Mrs. Piji Protopsaltis, Coordinator of International Cooperation of “The Smile of the Child”, gave a brief presentation, referring to the work of the Organization, its 10 Specialized Action Centers, to its local, European and international collaborations, and mentioned indicative cases managed by “The Smile of the Child” over the years, demonstrating the direct and necessary cooperation of the Organization with the Embassies. As she said “It is important that the Embassies know all theservices, tools and activities of the “Smile”, to communicate with it for the needs that arise so that the Organization in turn can offer the appropriate support, while it is also important to know the emergency numbers where we can contact each other if something urgent arises in order to provide the best possible response”.

Watch the presentation in detail here:

Areas and problems that arise, which can be solved with direct cooperation, include issues faced by children growing up in the Care Homes of the Organization, who come from other countries, who have been abused and/or neglected by their parents during their stay in Greece, or have been victims of exploitation, or are unaccompanied minors. Main challenges:

  • Children do not have necessary documents, especially originals (for school registration, adoption, travel, employment, etc.)
  • Lengthy bureaucratic process
  • Countries that do not have Embassy/Consulate in Greece
  • Searching for parents

The link between embassies and “The Smile of the Child” is already well developed in a large number of cases, which enhances the effectiveness of each side’s actions. During the discussion, concrete examples of such synergies in the recent past served as illustrations.

This meeting is gradually becoming an institution, as it was the third such meeting since 2015, refreshing the network and providing a unique opportunity to adapt and intensify contact in the face of changing external circumstances.

It is important to mention thatin view of the recent incidents with tourists visiting Greece for holidays and nature tours, which end in tragedy, information and advice material (safety tips) was given for dissemination in order to avoid accidents.


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