After Luxembourg agreed to take in 12 unaccompanied child refugees from Greek detention camps, Germany has accepted another 47 but drawn fire that it’s not doing enough and that the European Union keeps reneging on promises to help Greece.
The flight from Greece – one of the few with the airport closed to commercial traffic during the COVID-19 Coronavirus lockdown – was supposed to bring 58 but 11 were ill with other problems, said the German news site Deutsche Welle (DW) in a report.
After closing its borders and dumping the problem of refugees and migrants largely on Greece during the country’s long-running economic and austerity crisis, the EU also broke pledges to spread some around to other countries now refusing to take them.
Greece is holding more than 100,000, including 42,000 on islands near Turkey which keeps violating terms of an essentially-suspended 2016 swap deal with the EU by letting human traffickers flood Greek islands with more.
Turkey is holding about 5.5 million refugees and migrants from other countries, including 3.3 million from Syria’s civil war as well as those fleeing economic conditions and who had hoped to reach more prosperous countries in the EU.
When the EU’s borders were shut they went mostly to Greece, especially five islands near Turkey, seeking asylum to prevent being sent back to Turkey and then likely to their homelands again.
Since March 1 Greece’s New Democracy government has rounded up those who managed to get into the country, keeping them in detention centers until they can be deported, refusing to accept any more.
The EU said it would take as many as 1,600 unaccompanied minors before COVID-19 hit and countries said they wouldn’t accept any from Greece although when asked by DW at the time, Germany’s Interior Ministry said the decision would not affect children the government had promised to evacuate but nothing happened.
“The fact that 70 children have now been given permission to leave Greece is looked upon as nothing more than a polite gesture by many aid organizations. Most say they had hoped for more significant action in light of the fact that the awful situation in Greece’s refugee camps has continued to worsen by the day,” reported DW.
Germany’s Ambassador to Greece, Ernst Reichel, said his country eventually will take in between 350-500 refugee minors but gave no timetable, while Philippe Leclerc, representative of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Greece, said at least some are being taken.
He said other EU countries should do more, noting the desperate situation in overwhelmed camps on Greek islands, where human rights groups said people are living in inhumane conditions, especially children and unaccompanied minors.
“The situation, especially on Lesbos, Samos and Chios, has been insufferable for more than a year now. The Samos camp is currently filled to 11 times its capacity,” he said, conditions he called unacceptable, especially during the pandemic with fears the virus could spread in crowded conditions.
Vasilis Papadopoulos, President of the Greek Council for Refugees (GCR) told DW he’s worried that even when COVID-19 lockdowns lift the problem will get worse, especially for the minors, with the bottom falls out of economies and people and countries are concentrating on their own survival.
“More than 1,000 unaccompanied minors don’t have a permanent roof over their head, not to mention a total lack of schooling or long-term perspectives. 300 of those minors are currently in police custody.” he said.