On Wednesday, Greece and the UK signed a new strategic action plan, committing to further their cooperation on migration.
RLS is concerned that the new joint action plan between Greece and the UK does not satisfactorily address the plight of unaccompanied refugee children in Greece, who are all too often trapped in inhumane and unsafe conditions.
We urge the UK to relocate unaccompanied minors from Greece, as other European countries recently have done or have pledged to do. We note that any relocation effort must be in addition to the UK’s legal obligations under the Dublin III Regulations, which contain provisions for family reunification. We are concerned that no mention is made of family reunification post-Brexit and we urge the UK government to take concrete steps to ensure unaccompanied minors are able to reunite with family in the UK when the Dublin III Regulations are no longer binding.
The signing of the Greece-UK joint action plan went largely unreported in mainstream media, but was covered by some Greek and English news outlets, which noted that the joint plan includes the relocation of unaccompanied minors and family reunification from Greece to the UK.
The Home Office however did not mention relocation or family reunification when commenting on the signing of the joint plan. Instead they highlighted that the plan’s purpose is to “deepen cooperation on irregular migration”. The Home Office statement made repeated mention of “illegal migration” to Europe.
The journey to Europe by refugees should not be considered de facto illegal. Article 31 of the Refugee Convention exists to enshrine this principle in law. With no ‘asylum visa’ available, refugees fleeing conflict and persecution have no choice but to make dangerous journeys, risking their lives in order to apply for protection.
RLS is concerned that the Greece-UK joint action plan makes no specific commitment to relocate any of the 5,000 unaccompanied children currently in Greece to the UK. In response to claims that the UK will not relocate children from Greece, the Home Office incorrectly conflated the relocation of unaccompanied minors in Greece with existing legal obligations to reunite unaccompanied minors with family members in the UK under the Dublin III Regulations. RLS note that fulfilling legal obligations to reunite families under the Dublin III Regulations is separate to bringing unaccompanied children who do not necessarily have family members in the UK to safety.
The new joint action plan between Greece and the UK makes no assurances for unaccompanied minors with family members in the UK post-Brexit.
The plight of unaccompanied minors in Greece is well-documented. Last month, EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen visited Greece. In the Commission’s press release following this visit, von der Leyen stated:
“Thousands of unaccompanied children reach Europe every year. Their protection is a priority for the Commission…Commissioner Johansson and I will now work closely with the Member States to find a safe place for these children.”
Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis also declared:
“For many months the Greek government has been raising the flag on the tragedy of unaccompanied children arriving in Greece… What we need is a clear demonstration of European solidarity, which should take the form of a voluntary relocation pact, by which unaccompanied minors who are currently in Greece are relocated to other European countries. The scars of the soul are not easy to heal. Let us all do what is right to help Greece address this most sensitive issue.”
European countries have so far pledged a total of 1,600 places for minors to be relocated from Greece. In the last week, unaccompanied minors have been relocated from Greece to Luxembourg and Germany. A further nine countries (Ireland, France, Switzerland, Belgium, Bulgaria, Finland, Portugal, Lithuania and Croatia) have also pledged to relocate unaccompanied children from Greece.
Further reading regarding the situation for unaccompanied children in Greece: