Greek PM urges for more European solidarity as 49 unaccompanied refugee minors depart for Germany

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ATHENS, April 18 (Xinhua) -- Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis urged for more European solidarity on Saturday, as he wished 49 unaccompanied refugee minors who departed from Athens for Germany a brighter future.

The minors aged 5-16, including 35 from Syria, 10 from Afghanistan, two from Eritrea and two from Iraq, were hosted at reception camps on the Greek islands of Chios, Samos and Lesvos, Greek Migration and Asylum Ministry officials told Xinhua.

They are the first group of unaccompanied children and adolescents leaving for their new homes in Germany as part of an initiative launched a few months ago by the Greek government and the EU Commission in cooperation with the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and the European Asylum Support Office (EASO), which foresees the relocation of some 1,600 such cases from Greece to other EU countries.

Currently Greece hosts over 5,000 unaccompanied minors in overcrowded refugee camps, according to official data.

The implementation of the plan has been stalled after the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, but Greek officials said on Saturday that they hope it will be concluded over the next four months.

On Wednesday the first group of 12 unaccompanied refugees traveled to Luxembourg from Athens Eleftherios Venizelos airport.

The minors who boarded the airplane for Hannover on Saturday will initially stay in Lower Saxony for two-week quarantine according to protocols related to the novel coronavirus pandemic.

Following that they will be welcomed by foster families, youth centers, while two of them will be reunited with their mother, according to the Greek ministry.

"In the era of coronavirus this act of solidarity by the German government is very much appreciated," Mitsotakis said during the farewell ceremony at Athens airport.

"Dealing with the migration crisis should be a European responsibility. We should be burden-sharing and we should be able, as Europe, to start with the most pressing problem, which is the problem of unaccompanied minors," he said.

Germany intends to receive 350 to 500 unaccompanied refugees in the coming months, German Ambassador to Greece Ernst Reichel noted, addressing the event.

"The asylum issue concerning the Eastern Aegean Sea islands and Greece overall requires European solidarity and fair distribution of burdens within the EU. It is not only about the unaccompanied minors," he said.

"Ten countries agreed in previous months to receive up to 1,600 minors. They are the 'alliance of the willing.' With the exception of Luxembourg and Germany, they have suspended the plan due to the coronavirus crisis. We want to show that it is feasible and urge other European partners to follow in our footsteps," Reichel stressed.

Since 2015, over a million refugees and migrants have crossed the Aegean Sea from Turkey reaching the Greek islands to escape wars and extreme poverty. Most continued their perilous journey to other EU countries until the winter of 2016, when the borders along the Balkan route to central Europe were sealed off and an EU-Turkey agreement aimed to stem the influx was launched.

Currently, some 70,000 asylum seekers are stranded in Greece, according to Greek government figures. More than 38,800 were hosted in overcrowded reception centers on five Aegean Sea islands, according to the latest data provided by the Citizen Protection ministry on Wednesday. Enditem

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