ATHENS, July 7 (Xinhua) — The relocation program of unaccompanied refugee minors from Greece to other EU member states continues despite the COVID-19 challenge, after it was launched a few months ago by the Greek government and the European Commission, Greek officials said here Tuesday.
Greece’s Alternate Minister for Immigration and Asylum Giorgos Koumoutsakos wished a better future to 25 minors who departed from Athens international airport for Portugal, repeating Athens’ plea for more European solidarity on this matter.
The 19 minors were the first group to depart for Portugal, the official told Xinhua and other media. Until recently they were living in overcrowded reception facilities on the Aegean Sea islands of Lesvos, Chios and Samos.
Portugal has pledged to receive 500 unaccompanied minors under the program which is run in cooperation with the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and the European Asylum Support Office (EASO).
The program foresees the relocation of 1,600 such cases from Greece to other European Union countries out of the 5,000 unaccompanied minors currently hosted in Greece, according to official data.
Another group of 25 minors will depart from Athens for Finland on Wednesday.
During the spring, despite the COVID-19 challenge, groups of unaccompanied minors departed from the same airport for Luxembourg and Germany.
“I would like to thank Portugal very much for this support, for offering solidarity with actions, as part of the program we have created with the European Commission’s aid to relocate 1,600 unaccompanied minors from Greece to other member states,” Koumoutsakos said.
“The program continues. The minor delay for a few weeks was the result of the pandemic repercussions,” the minister explained, adding that more than a dozen countries have promised to welcome unaccompanied minors under this program.
Since 2015, over a million refugees and migrants crossed the Aegean Sea and reached the Greek islands, fleeing wars and extreme poverty.
Most continued their journey to other EU countries until the winter of 2016, when the borders along the Balkan route to central Europe were closed and an EU-Turkey agreement aimed to stem the influx was launched.
Currently, about 90,000 asylum seekers are stranded in Greece, according to Greek government figures. Enditem