Eight European states have taken the first step in anticipation of a long-promised but repeatedly postponed European asylum reform. Germany, France, Portugal, Finland, Lithuania, Croatia, Ireland and Luxembourg have jointly committed to welcoming 1,600 unaccompanied minors, present on Greek soil. The first children and adolescents are expected to arrive in Luxembourg in the next few days, said European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen during an interview on the German channel. ZDF, April 3.
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Germany was the first to volunteer in early March to welcome these children and adolescents who live in extremely precarious conditions, mostly left to fend for themselves, and particularly vulnerable to theft and violence.
The initiative is not linked to the health crisis, even if this adds to the challenges that Greece is facing, two migrant camps having been placed in quarantine, where 23 people in one, and one in the other, tested positive for coronavirus.
5,400 unaccompanied minors in Greece
For many months, the High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has been advocating the resumption of the program for the relocation of asylum seekers which had allowed 23,000 migrants present in Greece to be received in other European states, between 2015 and 2017. The country remains the first gateway to the European Union: 9,500 asylum seekers were added during the first three months of 2020 to the 110,000 refugees and migrants present on its territory.
Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis last November unsuccessfully asked his European partners to accommodate 3,000 unaccompanied minors. According to Ekka, the Greek center for social solidarity, Greece had 5,400 unaccompanied minors at the end of February, 1,600 of whom were on the Aegean islands. However, despite its “no child alone” program to guarantee the care of all unaccompanied minors, the country has only 2,350 places for these young people. Most are Afghans, Pakistanis and Syrians, and 9% of them are under the age of 14.
It is those present on the islands, primarily young sick and adolescent girls, who will be priority for this relocation. The International Organization for Migration should be responsible for identifying the most vulnerable among them. The number of minors accommodated by country remains to be determined. “The European Commission has been responsible for overseeing this effort”, we are told by the French interior ministry. In addition to minors, France also made a commitment in December 2019 to Greece to accommodate 400 families in need of protection. But “Relocation actions are currently frozen given the current health context”, adds the ministry.
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“We are very, very grateful”, made a point of stressing Ursula von der Leyen to the European countries willing to welcome some of them. The directorate in charge of migration in Brussels does not despair of other states joining the initiative.