ATHENS - Fifty unaccompanied minors have been transferred from Greece to Germany. They are the second group of relocations in a week and hundreds more are expected to follow as Greece moves ahead with a plan to ease overcrowded conditions at camps on the front line of Europe’s lingering refugee crisis.
Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis was at the airport in Athens to see the minors off.
The 50 are among the first of at least 350 young refugees who Germany has agreed to resettle from Greece, helping them re-unite with their families after months of separation.
Earlier this week, a batch of about a dozen minors aged between 11 and 15 were transferred to Luxembourg, the European Union’s tiniest member state. Eight other EU nations, along with Switzerland, have also agreed to accept youths, resettling a total of 1,600 young migrants.
But with Greece hosting more than 100,000 migrants and refugees, can this make a difference? Deputy Migration Minister George Koumoutsakos expressed hope for more such relocations to come.
The number of transfers, he said, may seem small. But the expectation, he explained, is that they will pave the way for more resettlements to happen, allowing other EU member states to shoulder the burden of the refugee crisis.
A third of the 100,000 migrants and refugees in Greece are children. And of them, more than 5,000 are unaccompanied, left to fend for themselves, living in the rough in abysmal and overcrowded camps on a host of Aegean islands.
Most of the 50 young migrants who left Saturday for Germany were relocated from Lesbos’ dreaded refugee camp of Moria, a facility built for some 2,000 people which now is hosting more than 20,000 in appalling conditions.
Most of the unaccompanied migrants are from Syria and Afghanistan. separated from their families and left behind in a bid to make the crossing to Europe
Koumoutsakos said the transfers will help ease overcrowded conditions in Aegean islands like Lesbos, something required so much more now during the coronavirus outbreak, when social distancing is critical to containing the pandemic.
Earlier this week, Human Rights Watch called on Greece to release all unaccompanied minors. It said keeping them in unhygienic detention centers increased the risk of the virus spreading.
While cases of COVID-19 have been documented in refugee camps here, officials insist they have managed to keep the virus from spreading to other communities because of draconian lockdown orders.
Because of the coronavirus outbreak, the 50 children transferred to Germany on Saturday will need to spend their first two weeks there in quarantine.