LISBON (Reuters) – Portugal is to take in 500 children from Greek refugee camps as soon as restrictions on movement imposed to contain the spread of the coronavirus outbreak are lifted, the country’s Foreign Minister Augusto Santos Silva said on Tuesday.
At least 5,200 unaccompanied minors live in Greece, many of them under harsh conditions in camps on islands in the Aegean, and concerns are mounting over how the disease has affected this vulnerable group. Most refugees in Greece come from Syria, with others from Afghanistan, Iraq and African countries.
“The commitment to take in 500 of the (over) 5,000 unaccompanied minors in camps in Greece remains and it will happen as soon as restrictions due to the pandemic allow us,” Santos Silva told a parliamentary committee, according to local news agency Lusa.
Santos Silva’s announcement came after Socialist Party lawmaker Isabel Santos said on Saturday that 60 unaccompanied children from Greek refugee camps were expected to arrive in Portugal within the next few weeks. The member of the European Parliament did not specify a date.
Portugal, which has reported 27,913 cases of the virus, with 1,163 deaths, said it was willing to take in some children as part of a voluntary European scheme to relocate around 1,600.
Other countries, including Germany, Ireland, France and Luxembourg, are also involved in the initiative. The first relocations took place last month when 12 minors were transferred to Luxembourg. Since then, Germany has received around 50 children.
Though Santos Silva said the reception and reintegration of the 500 children was currently being prepared by the government, Left Bloc lawmaker Beatriz Gomes Dias said the conditions of the accommodation given to refugees in Portugal is often not adequate.
Hundreds of thousands of migrants and refugees fleeing conflicts and poverty in countries such as Syria have used Greece as a springboard to gain entry to other European countries.
In February, tens of thousands of migrants tried to enter Greece after Turkey said it would no longer prevent them from doing so.
Turkey now hosts about 3.4 million refugees and migrants, while Greece has about 120,000 who are waiting for asylum applications to be processed.
(Reporting by Catarina Demony; Editing by David Gregorio)