18 unaccompanied migrant children from Greek island camps arrived in Belgium on Tuesday, following an agreement the Belgium government made to relocate them in May. The minors had been living in the camps for several months without a parent or guardian.
On Tuesday (August 4), 18 unaccompanied minors from migrant camps on Greek islands in the Aegean Sea arrived in Belgium as part of the EU relocation program.
That's according to Fedasil, the country's federal agency for the reception of asylum seekers.
Back in May, the Belgian government had agreed to take in the children, who had been in the camps for several months without a parent or guardian.
The youngest in the group, which includes just one girl, is nine years old. The oldest has just turned 18. According to Fedasil, the youngsters were all tested for COVID-19 before their departure and are from Afghanistan, Syria, Iran, Somalia and Guinea.
"They will first be accommodated in one of the Fedasil observation and orientation centers for unaccompanied minors," a statement on the website of Fedasil read. "After a stay of 2 to 4 weeks, they will be directed to the reception facility that best suits their needs."
1,600 planned transfers
Aside from Belgium, ten other EU member states -- Bulgaria, France, Croatia, Finland, Germany, Ireland, Portugal, Luxembourg, Lithuania and Slovenia -- are participating in the program and have committed to welcoming 1,600 unaccompanied children and adolescents.
According to the European Commission (EC), Norway has also expressed a willingness to join.
Since April, more than 200 unaccompanied minors have already arrived in Luxembourg, Portugal, Finland and Germany. Additionally, non-EU member Switzerland took in 23 migrant children in May.
Germany to receive 928 migrants
Germany pledged to take in a total of 928 migrants, 243 of those seriously ill or particularly vulnerable children and members of their immediate family.
In a first step, Germany transferred 47 unaccompanied minors, mostly young boys from Afghanistan, in April. Six children followed in late June. On July 24, 84 more migrants arrived. The latest transfer took place on July 31 when Germany received an additional 90 migrants.
Portugal will take in 500 unaccompanied minors and France 350, according to the EC. Some 5,000 unaccompanied migrant children and adolescents were present in Greece in March.
About 10% of the designated migrants are under 14 years of age while most are between 16 and 18. More than 90% are boys.
The three most represented countries of origin among the young migrants designated for transfer from Greece to other EU states are Afghanistan, Pakistan and Syria.
43,000 children still at risk
While the EU relocation plan has been welcomed by children's rights groups, it leaves more than 43,000 refugee and migrant children stranded in Greece, according to UNICEF estimates from last December. Close to 5,000 of them are unaccompanied.
On the islands, there are currently some 10,000 migrant and refugee children, some 12% of whom are unaccompanied. That's according to the most recent UNHCR figures.
Many of these children are locked down in dangerously overcrowded and unsanitary camps on the Aegean islands, the biggest of which is Moria on Lesbos.
Although the Greek government has moved more than 14,000 migrants from Lesbos to facilities on the Greek mainland since January to try to relieve the overcrowding, some 15,000 people remain in Moria. The capacity of the camp is around 2,800 people.
The children there, already exposed to risks to their mental health according to experts, are suffering under added strain in an atmosphere of heightened fear and violence, which last month erupted into a fight over a stolen mobile phone and led to the death of a 19-year-old from Ivory Coast.
According to the latest UNHCR data, some 30,400 refugees and asylum seekers currently reside on the Aegean islands.