6th Dec 2023

EU plans action for minors on Greek islands

  • One-third of all children arrive in Greece without parents or family (Photo: Spyros V. Oikonomou)

The European Commission wants to create a programme to help relocate unaccompanied minors from the Greek islands.

The plan follows repeated demands made by Greece last year for help - broadly met with silence from EU states.

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But the EU and its member states have now sprung into action after Turkey last month threatened to open its borders to refugees leaving Turkey for Greece.

A handful of member states earlier this week agreed to take in some 1,500 unaccompanied minors from Greece.

Ylva Johansson, the European commissioner for home affairs, says solutions are needed to help many others.

"My mission together with the Greek government is to put in place a process to protect and care for these vulnerable children and teenagers," she told MEPs on Tuesday (10 March).

Johansson and European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen will both be in Athens on Thursday to discuss the plans.

They will also discuss the controversial measure by Greece to suspend asylum claims for a month.

"I will also ask the Greek government how they will act now to make sure that they comply to EU law and the right to asylum and also the principle of non-refoulement," said Johansson.

Her comments follow video footage from Human Rights Watch showing over 450 squeezed together in the hull of a Greek navy boat.

Johansson said her proposal on minors is about relocating them to other EU states, along with housing and medical aid.

Citing figures from the EU's police agency Europol, Johansson said Greece had some 5,500 children who had travelled alone to the country.

Around 10 percent are younger than 14 years of age, she said. Many disappear from Greek reception centres.

"I am afraid that many of them fall in the hands of criminals," said Johansson.

The problem is not new.

In November, Michalis Chrisochoidis, Greece's minister for citizens' protection, said he had sent letters to every member state asking for help.

"I have asked for each country to take in voluntarily a small number of these unaccompanied minors. Unfortunately, I received only one response to that letter," he had said at the time.

Greece has in the past been accused of mistreating minors as well.

Human Rights Watch in a 2016 report accused Greece of keeping minors seeking asylum in prison-like conditions for weeks and months.

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The 14,000 migrants trapped on the Greek island of Lesbos has been described as "the single most worrying fundamental rights issue that we are confronting anywhere in the European Union" by the head of the EU's Fundamental Rights Agency.

EU offers Greek island migrants €2,000 to go home

Some 5,000 people stuck on the Greek islands will each be offered €2,000 to go home. The scheme is likely to take several weeks before officially launched and will be valid for one month.

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