On 7 and 8 July, 49 unaccompanied children were relocated from Greece to Portugal and Finland as part of a scheme organised by the Commission and the Greek Special Secretary for Unaccompanied Minors, in partnership with UN agencies and the European Asylum Support Office.
These two operations mark the beginning of the main phase of the scheme. With preparatory work coordinated by the Commission now completed and coronavirus-related travel restrictions easing, relocations will proceed progressively over the next months. The next transfers will take place later in the month, with 18 children finding new homes in Belgium, 50 in France, 106 (including siblings and parents) in Germany, 4 in Slovenia and 2 in Lithuania.
While the scheme started with an aim to relocate at least 1,600 children and young people, Member States have now pledged up to 2,000 places. The scheme is focused primarily on unaccompanied children, but will also include children with severe medical conditions and their core family members. At the same time, durable solutions for the protection and care of those unaccompanied children that will stay in Greece must also be found. The Commission stands ready to provide increased support for Greece and Member States in this respect.
Vice-President for Promoting our European Way of Life, Margaritis Schinas, said: “In a tangible expression of support to Greece, Portugal and Finland will soon open their doors to 49 children as part of our programme to relocate unaccompanied minors. This is the embodiment of the European spirit of solidarity and I truly commend the Member States taking part. We cannot, however, rely on ad hoc solutions forever. No Member State should be left alone to shoulder a disproportionate responsibility. The aim of the New Pact on Migration and Asylum will be to ensure that solidarity is provided on a permanent basis.”
Commissioner for Home Affairs, Ylva Johansson, said: “We have worked tirelessly to make sure that relocations can take place despite complications caused by the outbreak of the coronavirus. Seeing that these 49 children will start a new life in Portugal and Finland shows our efforts are bearing fruit. Our services are working well with Greek authorities and international organisations on this scheme, turning pledges into action.”
Greek Alternate Minister of Migration Policy Giorgos Koumoutsakos said:“49 unaccompanied minors have departed yesterday and today to start a new life in another EU Member State, in Portugal and Finland. I want to thank Portugal and Finland for the support and for this tangible gesture of solidarity. I also want to express my gratitude to the European Commission for the continuous help and encouragement so as to make possible the relocation of 1,600 unaccompanied minors to other Member States.”
As of mid-June, there were over 4,800 unaccompanied children in Greece. As part of the Action Plan for immediate measures to support Greece, the Commission proposed to relocate up to 1,600 children as part of a scheme supported by the European Asylum Support Office (EASO), the International Organization for Migration (IOM), the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF).
To date, 11 Member States and Norway (Belgium, Bulgaria, France, Croatia, Finland, Germany, Ireland, Portugal, Luxembourg, Lithuania and Slovenia) are participating in the scheme. The first relocation operations took place in April, when 12 children were relocated from Greece to Luxembourg and 47 to Germany. On 17 June, 8 unaccompanied children were relocated to Ireland, following a bilateral agreement that predates the scheme. Finally, 6 unaccompanied children who could not be relocated to Germany in April as they were not fit for travel at the time were transferred to Germany on 26 June.
Relocations under the scheme will be carried out progressively in groups of various sizes to ensure adequate reception capacity in the receiving Member States. In addition to its coordinating role, the European Commission is financially supporting most preparatory and pre-departure steps in Greece, as well as the transfer costs, while Member States can also request funding for participating in the scheme (€6,000 per person transferred).