ATHENS – As her own country keeps being assailed by human rights groups who said unaccompanied minor refugees are being mistreated or poorly handled, Greek President Katerina Sakellaropoulou said the European Union needs to help care for them.
She spoke on World Refugee Day on June 20 as refugees and migrants in the country, which is holding more than 100,000 of them, protested for greater rights in the Greek capital and other cities.
In a post on Facebook, Sakellaropoulou said other EU countries, some of which reneged on promises to help take some of the overload and as the bloc closed its borders to them, should step up and minors.
Since April, 47 minors have moved to Germany, 12 to Luxembourg and eight to Ireland, a total of 67 out of more than 5,200 stuck in Greece, some held for long periods in police cells and others on their own out on the streets.
Sakellaropoulou had visited a shelter for unaccompanied girl refugees and said it was a “rare and moving experience,” but she hasn’t criticized the government of Prime Minister and New Democracy leader Kyriakos Mitsotakis who made her President.
“Every humane society has an obligation to protect such children,” she wrote, not directly responding to harsh criticism of the government’s treatment of them and as 25 more from Greece will be going to Portugal.
“As the restrictions are easing, we’re getting prepared for the main phase of the program,” European Commission spokesman Adalbert Jahnz said earlier.
In early April, IOM, the International Organization for Migration, UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, and UNICEF, the UN Children’s Fund, welcomed the relocation of 12 unaccompanied asylum-seeking children from Greece to Luxembourg. The children, who had been living in overcrowded reception and identification centres for several months on the islands of Lesbos, Samos and Chios, three of the five islands holding more than 34,000 refugees and migrants.
Those are near the coast of Turkey, which lets human traffickers keep sending them in violation of an essentially-suspended 2016 swap deal with the EU. Turkey is holding some 5.5 million who fled their homelands and wanted to reach Europe.
The EU initiative is to relocate 1,600 unaccompanied children to 10 countries which have agreed to participate, the other 17 refusing and with vicious anti-refugee sentiment in some with near-authoritarian governments.
“The importance of this crucial initiative is amplified now due to the challenges we are all facing from COVID-19. Relocation of vulnerable children especially at a time of heightened hardship, sends a strong message of European solidarity and we hope to see this expand soon,” said Ola Henrikson, IOM Regional Director for the EEA, EU and NATO.
“Twelve children are today looking at a brighter future in a new country,” said Philippe Leclerc, UNHCR Representative in Greece. “UNHCR has worked tirelessly alongside Greece, EASO, and NGOs to ensure that the children’s best interests are fully considered. European countries must work together to share the responsibility with Greece and ensure that all unaccompanied children are safe and cared for.”
In May, Germany’s Minister for Economic Cooperation and Development, Gerd Muller, , denounced the condition of refugee camps in Greece. “It is disgraceful that such conditions are accepted in the middle of Europe,” he told the daily Rheinische Post.
“I have seen how 20,000 people were crammed in a camp planned for 3,000 people,” Muller added. He said authorities should ensure rights and dignity of refugees in these camps.
“Evacuating children from these camps do not solve the problem,” Muller said, referring to evacuation of unaccompanied refugee children from camps in Greece to Germany.