UN agencies welcome first relocation of 24 unaccompanied asylum-seeking children from Greece to Finland

HELSINKI: IOM, the International Organization for Migration, UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, and UNICEF, the UN Children’s Fund today welcomed the relocation of 24 unaccompanied asylum-seeking children from Greece. The children arrived safely in Finland this afternoon after having lived for several months in overcrowded reception and identification centers on […]

A group of 49 unaccompanied children left Greece this week for Portugal and Finland after having lived for several months in overcrowded reception centers on the islands of Greece. ©UNICEF/Aris Athanatos

HELSINKI: IOM, the International Organization for Migration, UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, and UNICEF, the UN Children’s Fund today welcomed the relocation of 24 unaccompanied asylum-seeking children from Greece.

The children arrived safely in Finland this afternoon after having lived for several months in overcrowded reception and identification centers on the islands of Lesvos, Samos and Chios. The children arrived in good health. They have been received by the Finnish Immigration Service, MIGRI, and are all seeking international protection, which will now be processed individually.

This group is the first of several to be relocated to Finland, who has generously offered to receive a total of 175 asylum-seekers, including unaccompanied minors from Greece and vulnerable single-parent families from Malta and Cyprus.

Finland is hereby showing an important act of European solidarity and helping to relieve the alarmingly overcrowded and concerning situation in the Greek islands.

The relocation was organized by the Governments of Finland and Greece and coordinated by the European Commission with the support from IOM, UNHCR and UNICEF and the European Asylum Office (EASO). The relocation project aims to relocate 1,600 unaccompanied and other vulnerable people from Greece to other participating European states.

To date, 11 EU Member States are participating in the scheme. Already, 90 unaccompanied children have been brought to Luxembourg, Germany and Portugal – and more transfers are planned to take place in the coming weeks to Belgium, France, Germany, Lithuania and Slovenia.

“We are still in the early stages, but the relocations are set to accelerate through this truly cooperative effort between Greece, European states, UN agencies and the European Commission,” said Ola Henrikson, IOM Regional Director for the EEA, EU and NATO. “Relocation is a practical and humane act of solidarity that works. It works for the most vulnerable children and others in need, it works for Greece and we think it is something that will continue working for Europe.”

“We are very pleased to see the commitments by EU states translating into concrete action. This is evidence that European solidarity is a reality. Such collective efforts to find solutions need to con tinue and be strengthened”, said Pascale Moreau, UNHCR Regional Director for Europe. “There are still hundreds of unaccompanied refugee children in Greece in desperate and unsafe conditions. Securing their future and well-being should be our common goal and moral imperative.”

“Europe is offering these children a fresh start in life,” said Ms. Afshan Khan, UNICEF Regional Director for Europe and Central Asia. “They are now safe, have access to health care and education and they can enjoy rights which belong to every child. Growing up, they will need the support of the community, and we all have a part to play in this. Meanwhile, most of the children are still living in the camp. We can and must move faster for the children still left behind.”

As of early July, there were almost 4,700 unaccompanied and separated children in Greece in urgent need of durable solutions, including expedited registration, family reunification and relocation. Among them, more than 1,100 are exposed to severe risks, including exploitation and violence, and facing precarious and overcrowded conditions on the Aegean islands.