UNHCR: Relocations from Greece are more urgent than ever

Most of the shelters of the asylum seekers have been completely devastated by the recent fires in Moria. © Ritzau Scanpix/UNHCR

UNHCR’s Representation for the Nordic and Baltic Countries welcomes Norway’s offer to swiftly start relocation of unaccompanied minors and other vulnerable asylum-seekers from the Greek islands.

The situation on the islands has long been desperate and dire with overcrowding, inadequate health and hygienic conditions, as well as the threat from and spread of COVID-19 more recently. With the devastating fire on 9 September, largely destroying the Moria Registration and Identification Center on Lesvos, leaving 12,000 asylum-seekers in a particularly concerning situation, the need for quick humanitarian support and additional relocations is more urgent than ever.

“It’s an important humanitarian gesture and act of solidarity that Norway is now joining the European relocation efforts. It is also very encouraging to see the strong expressions of support coming from Norwegian cities, municipalities and civil society,” says Henrik M. Nordentoft, UNHCR’s Representative to the Nordic and Baltic countries.

Greece currently hosts more than 4,000 unaccompanied refugee and migrant children – with many of them exposed to severe risks, including exploitation and violence, in congested facilities on the Aegean islands or living as homeless on the mainland.

UNHCR, who alongside partners is supporting the relocation exercise, continues to appeal broadly to European countries, including Norway, to explore possibilities of further strengthening commitments to the relocation scheme. This would not only ease the suffering of vulnerable asylum-seekers, but also send an important sign of responsibility-sharing to Greece.

With record-high forced displacement globally, and the need for durable solutions for vulnerable refugees only growing year by year, UNHCR appeals to European countries, including Norway, to ensure that intra-EU relocation from Greece will not impact the countries’ valuable quotas for life-saving resettlement globally.

While applauding the EU relocation scheme, and the countries that are taking part, UNHCR is also urging stakeholders to move beyond one-off relocations and ad-hoc solutions. The European States must establish more predictable, effective and sustainable arrangements on disembarkation and reception for longer-term impact – hereby ensuring a better and jointly managed European response to the arrival of asylum-seekers.