File Photo: Alternate Migration & Asylum Minister Giorgos Koumoutsakos. AMNA-PANTELIS SAITAS
Switzerland has expressed an interest in the relocation of 20 unaccompanied refugee minors from Greece, Alternate Migration & Asylum Minister Giorgos Koumoutsakos said on Thursday.
At a press briefing, Koumoutsakos said that his Swiss counterpart had offered to host the minors permanently, bringing the total of countries interested in receiving unaccompanied refugee minors to eleven.
The Greek minister said nine children from Lesvos, one from Samos and two from Chios will arrive in Athens from the islands on Friday and will stay at facilities of the International Migration Organization, where they will undergo all necessary medical tests before leaving Greece.
So far, arrangements are being made for a total of 50 children to be relocated to Germany, while other countries also interested in welcoming children include Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Finland, France, Ireland, Lithuania, Luxembourg and Serbia.
Koumoutsakos also spoke of the suspension of processing asylum requests for a month, he said it was prompted by an influx of migrants at the borders with Evros instigated by Turkey. “We are now returning to the status quo ante,” he said, and said those who managed to cross into Greece in March may also apply for asylum.
He warned however that the Asylum Service is not currently reviewing any asylum applications, “which has suspended its operation because of the pandemic; as you know, interviews must be conducted in person.” He said that this does not mean the service isn’t working at all. “It is reviewing the backlog of thousands of applications that have accumulated and which we have inherited from the previous government.”
Additionally, the minister mentioned that the 181 containers gifted by the Austrian government will be used for the housing, treatment and isolation of any potential coronavirus cases. Of the total, he noted, 40 will be transported to the island of Samos and the new Receiving and Identification Center being prepared there, and the rest will be distributed to islands on a need basis.
A ferry heading to Piraeus on Thursday evening is carrying 82 asylum seekers from Lesvos island who are exempt from restrictive transfer measures, as they belong to coronavirus vulnerable groups.
They will be forwarded to accommodation facilities in mainland Greece, ahead of another 53 asylum seekers that will be transferred from the NE Aegean island’s Moria hotspot to Piraeus on Monday.
Another 139 asylum seekers were transferred to similar facilities in northern Greece last week, while two underage refugees were expected to depart to Athens on Thursday, to be relocated to Luxembourg.
The number of resident refugees at Moria on Thursday dropped below 19,000, against at least 20,000 that have been living in and around the reception and identification center, built to hold a maximum 3,000 people.