A boy at the Moria refugee camp on the Greek island of Lesbos | Photo: picture-alliance/dpa
A boy at the Moria refugee camp on the Greek island of Lesbos | Photo: picture-alliance/dpa

Germany is planning to take in up to 500 minors from the Greek islands in the next few weeks; starting with 50 unaccompanied children next week. Critics say this is too little, too late, given that tens of thousands of migrants and refugees remain in the overcrowded camps.

The German interior ministry announced on Tuesday that the federal cabinet was set to approve the transfer of 50 unaccompanied minors to Germany on Wednesday.

The children and teenagers will be brought to Germany "in the following week if possible," the ministry said. After their arrival, they will be quarantined for two weeks and then send to different states across the country.

In an interview with German TV stations RTL and n-tv on Wednesday, German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said that Germany would take in a total of 350 to 500 minors over the next few weeks. He also said that Germany and Luxembourg were currently the only countries within the European Union (EU) willing to take in refugees and migrants from Greece.

Earlier on Tuesday, Luxembourg had announced that it would take in 12 unaccompanied minors from the islands of Lesbos and Chios

According to Maas, Germany and Luxembourg will try to carry out a charter flight together next week.

Plans to relocate refugees stalled by coronavirus

In early March, the three governing parties in Germany had agreed on taking in between 1,000 and 1,500 foreign minors that were particularly vulnerable (i.e. either seriously ill or under the age of 14 and without their families) from Greece.  

Also in early March, several EU states had announced that they would take in a total of 1,600 vulnerable refugees from the Greek island camps. Eight other EU countries had agreed to take in underage refugees and migrants from the Greek islands, according to a recent statement by the German interior ministry. These countries were France, Portugal, Ireland, Finland, Croatia, Lithuania, Belgium and Bulgaria. But due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, these countries' relocation plans seem to have been largely suspended.

Critics: government not doing enough

Several opposition politicians and activists in Germany criticized the German government's handling of the situation in Greece, saying that taking in just 50 minors was far too little.

Claudia Roth, a prominent member of the Green Party, said the interior ministry's plans were "long overdue" and only amounted to a drop in the ocean.

Günter Burkhardt, the head of the Pro Asyl NGO, said that the camps in Greece should be completely evacuated to prevent an outbreak of COVID-19 - the respiratory disease caused by the novel coronavirus.

Erik Marquardt, a migrants' rights activist, Green Party politician and member of the European Parliament, tweeted: "Germany wants to evacuate 50 children. On Lesbos alone this will mean that the government coalition will sacrifice 19,950 people … They are bringing 80,000 workers to Germany to harvest asparagus but fail to (help) a few thousand people in mortal danger. What a sad embarrassment." 

Marquardt in his statement referred to the fact that an estimated 20,000 people live in the Moria camp on the Greek island of Lesbos. Germany recently announced it would bring in 80,000 foreign farmworkers for the harvest, in spite of various border closures across the EU.

Camps extremely overcrowded

Experts and migrant rights activists have long been worried about the situation on several Greek islands, where tens of thousands of migrants are sill living in overcrowded camps. The situation is particularly dire on Lesbos. The Moria camp there was built for no more than 3,000 people – yet around 20,000 migrants and refugees currently live in and around the camp.

The Greek government has put the migrants camps on partial lockdown to prevent a potential coronavirus outbreak, but many believe that these measures are insufficient to protect the residents.

In Greece, there have been 1,832 confirmed coronavirus cases and 269 deaths, according to John Hopkins University (as of midday on Wednesday, CEST). There have been no confirmed cases of COVID-19 in camps on the Greek islands thus far. But there has been at least one case on Lesbos among the island's native population, and there have also been outbreaks at two camps on the Greek mainland.

With AFP, dpa, epd, KNA, Reuters


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