ATHENS, Greece — A voluntary scheme by European Union member states to accept unaccompanied migrant children from Greece officially ended Tuesday, raising concern over delays still facing the bloc in hammering out a comprehensive new migration agreement.
Fifteen minors from Somalia, Gambia and Pakistan boarded a plane in Athens bound for Lisbon, Portugal, bringing the total number of migrant children relocated under the program to 1,368 in 16 countries since 2020, Greek officials said.
The European Commission has promised to finalize new migration rules, common across all member states, in 2024 following years of delays.
The main sticking point is centered around the so-called solidarity mechanism, under which member states would be given relocation quotas to assist countries like Greece, Italy and Spain where most of the asylum seekers arrive.
Sofia Voultepsi, the Greek deputy migration minister, said Athens was already in discussions with EU member states for a new voluntary scheme if needed.
“Greece alone cannot bear the burden of refugees and immigration. It cannot lift on its shoulders all the unaccompanied children who arrive in our country,” she told reporters at Athens International Airport.
Gianluca Rocco, chief of mission for the United Nations’ International Organization for Migration in Greece, said he remained hopeful that the EU could reach a deal.
“The concern is (centered) around the fact that the discussion on the pact is coming to a very crucial moment, because next year the Commission will end its mandate,” he said. “This issue needs to be addressed together and collectively.”