POLITICS & INSTITUTIONS - ECONOMY

Coronavirus hampers refugee children transport



A child is pictured at the Moria refugee camp on Lesvos island, Greece Shutterstock

A child is pictured at the Moria refugee camp on Lesvos island, Greece Shutterstock

Luxembourg’s plan to transfer child refugees from a Greek island camp to the grand duchy has been hampered by coronavirus measures taken in Greece.

Speaking with MPs via videoconference on Monday, Luxembourg foreign affairs minister Jean Asselborn (LSAP) stressed the transfer “should be carried out under conditions that guarantee maximum health security.”

A foreign affairs ministry spokesperson told Delano late on Monday that the number of minors was 12 and not 11 as had been stated in a parliament summary. He said that current travel restrictions meant the authorities envisaged using a charter flight.

The situation in Greece worsened when in March Turkey opened its borders to asylum seekers, breaking the 2016 EU migration pact. This was compounded when the coronavirus developed into a pandemic.

The first cases of coronavirus were detected on the island of Lesvos in March. The same month, in an open letter crisis management commissioner Janez Lenarcic called for the most vulnerable groups in camps to be evacuated first.

The European Commission allocated €350m to support Greece in its response to migrants, of which some 42,000 are thought to be living in hotspots on Greek islands. Countries including Germany, France, Portugal, Lithuania, Croatia, Ireland and Luxembourg have agreed to relocate 1,600 unaccompanied minors currently staying in overcrowded hotspots.

Asselborn added that Luxembourg had repatriated some 300 nationals since the start of the health crisis, with a few awaiting their return, mainly from New Zealand and Australia. According to the foreign affairs minister, this has been problematic because there are now so few flights to these destinations. Around 20 diplomats in Luxembourg are coordinating repatriations. One challenge was that travelers to Luxembourg were stuck in transit in other countries in the Schengen area.

Across the EU, 300,000 Europeans were repatriated with a further 50,000 are still waiting to be repatriated. Luxembourg helped organise the repatriation of Europeans from Cape Verde, Asselborn said.

*This article was updated at 9:15amon 7 April to include a comment from the ministry spokesperson.