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EU Solidarity on Migrant Children in Greece Could Change Lives

Dutch Government Should Welcome Unaccompanied Children from Greek Islands

Unaccompanied children refugees from the overcrowded migrant camps on the north Aegean Sea islands, Greece, board a plane at the Eleftherios Venizelos International Airport in Athens to travel to Luxembourg, on Wednesday, April 15, 2020. (c) 2020 Orestis Panagiotou/AP

Last week, Luxembourg became the first European country to welcome migrant children, twelve girls and boys, from the Greek Aegean Islands. And on April 16, 47 others arrived in Germany, the first to benefit from a plan to relocate unaccompanied migrant children from Greece’s overcrowded and dangerous camps to other European countries.

If the plan works, at least 1,600 children could be offered a new life. Eleven European Union countries, including Belgium and France, have each pledged to receive and provide care to dozens of children.

But the Netherlands is not among them. Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte would surely agree no child should be left without care in a refugee camp, particularly not in Europe. But for years, hundreds of children who left their home countries alone, because of violence, armed conflict, discrimination, and poverty, have had to survive in inhumane conditions on the Greek Aegean Islands.

Over 1,600 unaccompanied children are stuck on the islands. A small fraction is in so-called safe areas, crammed into portable containers that often lack locks, much less decent living conditions. These kids at least benefit from the regular support of Greek and international agencies.

But the vast majority are trapped in inhumane and degrading living conditions, in informal settlement areas extending far beyond the perimeter of official facilities in the camps. Many sleep rough, sometimes in the open. They struggle to access education, food, water, toilets, and showers, and are at heightened risk of Covid-19 infection.

Their fate is the result of a collective failure to address the situation of asylum seekers and migrants trapped on the Greek islands since 2016. The end of the 2015 emergency relocation mechanism, for which the Netherlands only implemented half its commitment, contributed to increasing the pressure on Greece and overcrowding the islands.

Relocating these children after years of humanitarian disaster on the islands will not only show solidarity with Greece, it will greatly improve the lives of many children and give them their childhood back. If each EU country pledged to take care of a few dozen children, they could provide relief to most unaccompanied children trapped on the islands. The Netherlands should do the right thing and join those who have pledged to relocate kids from Greece. 

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