Children in the Moria refugee camp on the island of Lesbos, Greece, 8 January 2020 | Photo: EPA/O. Panagiotou
Children in the Moria refugee camp on the island of Lesbos, Greece, 8 January 2020 | Photo: EPA/O. Panagiotou

The first group of migrant children to be relocated from Greek refugee camps will arrive in Luxembourg next week. There are calls to speed up the evacuation of hundreds more unaccompanied minors before it is too late.

The small state of Luxembourg will be the first country to take in a group of unaccompanied children from Greece next week. Twelve minors will be relocated to Luxembourg, the foreign ministry announced on Tuesday.

The children to be relocated are currently on the Greek islands of Lesbos and Chios, the foreign ministry said. The transfer is organized by the UN migration agency, IOM.

"I would like to thank the Greek authorities ... as well as the UNHCR and IOM officials, for helping to make this gesture of solidarity with Greece a reality and for being able to offer these young people the prospect of a dignified life in our country," Luxembourg's foreign minister Jean Asselborn said.

Seven other European countries – Germany, France, Portugal, Finland, Lithuania, Croatia and Ireland – agreed in March to take in a total of 1,600 unaccompanied minors stranded in overcrowded and unsanitary camps on the Greek Aegean islands.

Health officials have warned that coronavirus could have a serious impact on migrants in the camps, where it is impossible to follow recommended measures to stop the spread of COVID-19 such as social distancing and regular hand-washing.

Germany urged to 'do its part'

Calls have intensified for the European Commission to evacuate the unaccompanied minors quickly from the island camps and distribute them among the receiving countries. 50 members of the German Parliament have addressed the EU Commission President, Ursula von der Leyen, calling for swift action.

Annette Widmann-Mauz, the German Commissioner for Integration, has warned that the time may come when it is no longer possible to take in the children. "We are still in a position to do this. That's why I am urging that we do our part," Widmann-Mauz said on Monday.

The Social Democrats' Parliamentary home affairs spokesperson, Ute Vogt, said if Germany acts now, the other states will also assume their responsibilities. "We must stand by our promise to fly the children out quickly."

The chair of the Council of the Protestant Church (EKD), Heinrich Bedford-Strohm, also called for urgent action, saying "It is no longer comprehensible to me why the contingent of at least 1,500 children ... was not evacuated to Germany long ago."

With AFP, KNA

 

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