The Relocation of Unaccompanied Children from the Greek Islands Cannot Wait

Geneva, 7 April 2020 - While unaccompanied migrant and refugee children have been living in dire conditions on the Greek islands for a long time, the COVID-19 pandemic poses an additional threat to their wellbeing in a situation where basic hygiene measures are impossible to maintain. Thus, urges a group of civil society organizations, European governments should urgently proceed with the relocation to which they have already agreed.

With the first cases of COVID-19 already confirmed in the islands of Lesbos and Samos, there is no time to lose. Photo: Two young asylum-seekers from Afghanistan walk through a makeshift camp adjacent to the Moria reception and identification centre in Lesbos. © UNHCR/Achilleas Zavallis 67 non-governmental organizations, including the International Catholic Migration Commission (ICMC) Europe, have pressed European governments to immediately honour commitments to relocate unaccompanied minors from the Greek islands.

The situation on the Greek ‘hotspots’ is one of overcrowding and lack of basic services and facilities, the organizations state in a 3 April open letter. Many people are forced to sleep in the open without adequate medical services and daily worsening conditions. Among the many thousands of asylum-seekers, there are over 1,752 unaccompanied children in Aegean island camps, and over 5,300 in the country overall.

The governments of Germany, France, Portugal, Finland, Lithuania, Croatia, Ireland and Luxembourg agreed in mid-March to relocate unaccompanied minors to their territories. In the meantime, with the spread of COVID-19 posing an immediate threat, the efforts have stalled.

Reiterating previous calls to relocate the minors, the organizations insist, especially because of the public health crisis, it is more important than ever that governments act on their commitments. They highlight the case of Luxembourg, which announced that it will transfer the first group of children to the country in the week of 13 April. This is an important step that needs to be followed by the other governments, the open letter reads.

With the first cases of COVID-19 already confirmed in the islands of Lesbos and Samos, there is no time to lose. “Overcrowding and extremely limited access to running water, toilets and showers, make it impossible to abide by the guidelines for protecting oneself from COVID-19, putting these asylum-seekers at significantly heightened risk of infection, serious illness or death, especially those with underlying health conditions.”

Over the past few weeks, countries have carried out large repatriation efforts to bring their citizens back from countries across the world. This shows that where there is political will, there is a way, the letter reads. “The same must be done for the most vulnerable people in the Greek island camps.”

The organizations call for more European governments to join the relocation efforts and ensure that more unaccompanied minors can be transferred to a place of safety.