Athens/Osnabrueck, Germany – Dozens of refugee children from the overcrowded camps on the Greek islands flew from Athens and reached the northern German city of Hanover, the second group of unaccompanied minors to make such a journey out of Greece.
14-day coronavirus quarantine
The 47 minors then entered two buses to travel from Hanover to the Osnabrueck area for a 14-day coronavirus quarantine. Despite the protective masks they were wearing, they were evidently smiling and many gave a thumbs up to photographers who were waiting nearby.
The group is made up of 42 children and five young people, four of whom are accompanying younger siblings, according to the federal and state interior ministries.
The majority of the unaccompanied minors with an average age of 13 come from Afghanistan, Syria and Eritrea, according to sources in the Ministry of Migration in Athens.
"We are giving persecuted people the opportunity to restart," Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said on state television.
His words were echoed by the federal and state interior ministers in Germany.
"I am pleased that we are able to receive the first unaccompanied children today, despite the seriousness of the coronavirus crisis," said German Interior Minister Horst Seehofer.
The interior minister of Lower Saxony, Boris Pistorius, called the refugee children's arrival a "beginning."
Children will be distributed across Germany
After their coronavirus quarantine, some of the children will stay in Lower Saxony, about 20 have relatives they will go to, and the others are to be distributed across Germany's federal states.
The process of bringing the children to Germany took longer than hoped, according to the Greek deputy migration minister, as numerous authorities and organizations are involved in assessing the children and allocating them to places considered suitable.
The children are also assessed in terms of their physical and psychological health, which also takes time. They are the second group of minors to be taken from the notorious camps on the Greek islands of Lesbos, Chios and Samos. Already 12 young people were taken in earlier by Luxembourg.
Some to be brought to other EU countries
The plan provides for around 1,600 young people to be brought to other EU countries. A good 90 per cent of the minors are boys.
Some 39,000 people are currently staying in camps on the islands in the east of the Aegean. According to the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), around 36 per cent are minors.
"It's a small number and can really be only a beginning, when it comes to easing the overcrowding of the camps on the Greek islands," Frank Remus, the German UNHCR representative, told dpa.
He said people should bear in mind that the youngsters had come to a world that was foreign to them, far from their familiar environment and without the people they were close to. "How they settle in Germany depends on helpful hands and open hearts."
Germany wants to bring more
Germany plans to take in 350 to 500 unaccompanied minors from the islands, preferably children under the age of 14, those who are ill, and girls.
The German government expects that other EU countries willing to take in young people but delayed by the coronavirus will nonetheless fulfill their commitments.
Alongside Germany, Luxembourg, Belgium, Bulgaria, France, Croatia, Finland, Ireland, Portugal, Lithuania and Switzerland have all made similar promises.
EU asylum seekers in 2019