Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 1 December 2020

Merkel-Macron plan for EU to take in 400 children hit by migrant centre fires

Red Cross says it is humanitarian imperative to evacuate minors

German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron have agreed on an initiative for the EU to take in about 400 minors left homeless after a huge fire destroyed the biggest refugee camp in Greece.

Hosting the young refugees from Moria camp on the island of Lesbos would be shared among EU member states.

Details of the plan were expected to be announced later on Thursday by Mrs Merkel, whose country holds the rotating EU presidency.

The final figure was still an estimate and could change depending on continuing talks.

The severely overcrowded Moria, which is housing four times its official capacity, held about 12,700 asylum seekers, including 4,000 children, before it was destroyed in a fire this week.

The Greek government said it sent three flights to move 406 unaccompanied minors from the island and rehouse them in safe centres in northern Greece.

It remains unclear if the German-French initiative involves these minors.

In Brussels, Home Affairs Commissioner Ylva Johansson told a European Parliament commission that talks were continuing among member states on providing refuge to the young migrants.

There was no choice for the EU but to move migrants from Lesbos and the other Greek islands after the fire, the Red Cross said.

Francesco Rocca, president of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, said holding migrants for years on the islands was no solution to the crisis.

"There is an urgent need to move migrants from the Greek islands to the mainland," Mr Rocca said in Geneva.

"Evacuating migrants out of the Greek islands is no longer an option, it is a humanitarian imperative.

"Thousands of people are living in unacceptable conditions on the Greek islands.

"This is a European crisis which requires concrete acts of solidarity by EU member states. Simply containing people is not the solution."

Lesbos is the main port of entry for arrivals in EU member state Greece because of its close proximity to Turkey.

Mr Rocca visited the camp in early March as the Covid-19 crisis took off in Europe.

He said the situation there was "desperate", with some refugees stuck there for up to six years.

"No human being should live in the conditions in an overcrowded camp like in Moria," Mr Rocca said.

He said Moria was "something that must end", suggesting it could be a transit centre where migrants stay for a few days before being moved into the EU.

Mr Rocca said thousands of Moria asylum-seekers were camping on roadsides on Thursday in a "terrible situation".

"Local people, NGOs, the Red Cross, everyone is doing their utmost. But for how long?" he asked.

"We must speed up the move of these people from the island."

Mr Rocca was speaking as the federation in Geneva launched its Least Protected, Most Affected report on the risks for migrants and refugees during the Covid-19 pandemic.

It called for all migrants to have access to essential health care, including Covid-19 testing, tracing, education and treatment, without fear of arrest, detention or deportation.

Updated: September 11, 2020 01:40 AM

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