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Dutch Activists Want to Airlift Migrants Off Greek Island

THE HAGUE, Netherlands — A group of Dutch refugee activists is planning to fly an empty plane to the Greek island of Lesbos in a bid to pick up nearly 200 migrants who lost their homes when their camp burned down  last month. 

But one of organizers of the crowdfunded initiative acknowledged Thursday that the chance is all but non-existent that Dutch authorities will give them clearance to fly any migrants into the Netherlands.

"We are trying to increase the pressure while realizing that it would be a bizarre miracle if it happens," said Rikko Voorberg of the group Let's Bring Them Here.

The group opened a crowdfunding action that quickly raised enough money to charter a passenger aircraft with nearly 200 seats reserved for migrants. It is scheduled to take off for Lesbos on Monday morning.

The action is a way of raising awareness of the plight of migrants stuck on Lesbos and elsewhere with limited prospects for relocation to other European countries.

More than 26,000 refugees and migrants awaiting processing of their asylum bids live in camps on Greek islands, where they arrived after crossing from the nearby Turkish coast in smuggling boats. More than half are on Lesbos. 

In an open letter published on the group's website in English, Farsi and Arabic, organizers warn that they are dependent on gaining official permission to airlift migrants off the island.

"We have to try, even if it fails," the letter says. 

On Wednesday, 139 vulnerable asylum-seekers who had been living in overcrowded Greek island camps were taken on an officially sanctioned flight to Germany, as part of efforts to ease overcrowding and move refugees to other European countries.

Alternate Migration Minister Giorgos Koumoutsakos said it was the first resettlement flight after the notoriously overcrowded Moria camp on Lesbos, Greece's largest, burned down. Most of the Moria residents have since been resettled in a new camp on Lesbos, with hundreds moved to the mainland.

Monday's attempted airlift is not the first time Voorberg and his supporters have attempted to relocate migrants. Late in 2018, the group drove a city bus and 35 cars to Athens in an attempt to bring people back to the Netherlands. That convoy returned empty-handed.

The Dutch government did not immediately comment on the planned flight. In the aftermath of the fire that tore through Moria, the government offered to take 100 people from the camp — unaccompanied minors and families with young children.

The Dutch minister responsible for migration and asylum, Ankie Broekers-Knol, on Thursday took a virtual tour around a shelter for 16 unaccompanied girls and young mothers on the Greek mainland funded by Greece and the Netherlands. The new shelter is the first of three being established by the two countries to improve accommodation for unaccompanied young asylum seekers.

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