Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 1 December 2020

European Union mulls taking in 1,500 child refugees from Greek islands

Croatia considers taking minors in need of special protection

Migrants and refugees walk towards the Greek border with their belongings near the Pazarkule border gate in Edirne, Turkey. EPA
Migrants and refugees walk towards the Greek border with their belongings near the Pazarkule border gate in Edirne, Turkey. EPA

Germany said on Monday the European Union is considering taking in up to 1,500 child refugees currently living in Greek camps after one of the bloc’s members Croatia said children needed “special protection”.

Croatian Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic said his country would continue in its “humanitarian approach” and accept some children.

"I do not see that any reasonable person would be against us helping some children," the prime minister said at a political rally on Sunday before elections on March 15.

Tens of thousands of migrants have attempted to break through into Greece over the past 10 days from Turkey after Ankara announced it would no longer stop people trying to cross into the EU.

Germany, the largest country in Europe, said its plan was to resettle between 1,000-1,500 children identified as being particularly in need.

"A humanitarian solution is being negotiated at the European level for a 'coalition of the willing' to take in these children," Berlin said.

Germany would take "an appropriate share" of the children, although the government did not say which other members of the EU would also participate.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan was due to meet EU officials on Monday evening to discuss a 2016 deal, which saw Ankara prevent migrants travelling to Europe in exchange for up to 6 billion euros to help the 3.6 million refugees in Turkey.

Mr Erdogan has accused the EU of failing to shoulder its share of the burden, arguing that Turkey has not received all of the money it was promised. The EU says it is disbursing the funds.

The Turkish President said called on the bloc to "open the gates" ahead of his meeting in Brussels.

“After the latest developments in Idlib, Syria, we’ve given the refugees the opportunity to go where they’d like,” he said.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen called for the “restart of a dialogue”.

“On the one hand, we acknowledge the fact that Turkey is doing a great deal, is looking after millions of refugees, with our help as well, but primarily Turkey is looking after these millions of people,” she said.

“Secondly, we need to talk very clearly about the fact that what happened last weekend cannot happen again. We need a future-proof strategy together to make sure these kinds of escalations at the Greek-Turkish border do not happen again.”

Greek police have used tear gas and a water cannon to push back migrants attempting to cross over the border.

Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said he hoped Mr Erdogan's visit to Brussels would mark “the start of the de-escalation of the crisis”.

“Greece has always …. recognised and does recognise that Turkey has a crucial role to play in the management of the migration problem. And it needs Europe’s help to do it,” Mr Mitsotakis said. “But this cannot happen … under conditions of threats and blackmail, using desperate people as pawns.”

A volunteer in the burnt facilities of the school for refugee children, part of the "One Happy Family" NGO's project on the island of Lesbos. Getty Images
A volunteer in the burnt facilities of the school for refugee children, part of the "One Happy Family" NGO's project on the island of Lesbos. Getty Images

Concern has been raised over the welfare of minors in camps after more than 1,700 migrants arrived on Greek islands in the Aegean Sea over the course of a week.

On the island of Lesbos, a few kilometres from the Turkish coastline, more than 20,000 migrants live in a camp designed to accommodate 3,100 people.

As fears grow for the health and safety of those living in the camps, it is believed the EU will seek to remove either unaccompanied children under the age of 14 or children in need of urgent medical assistance from the islands.

The German announcement followed a fire at the weekend that severely damaged part of a refugee centre on Lesbos.

It was not yet clear how the blaze started, said officials from the Swiss-run One Happy Family centre, but it came amid an increase in attacks on aid workers helping the refugees.

The day centre, which provided a number of services including Greek and English lessons to refugees living on Lesbos, had been closed for more than a week after turmoil on the island over increased migrant arrivals.

Updated: March 9, 2020 08:05 PM

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