Call for EU to do more to protect unaccompanied refugee children from Coronavirus

Relocating minors from Greek island camps would be ‘hallmark of virtue and prudence’, writes former MEP Mariela Baeva

Photo credit: Press Association

By Mariela Baeva

24 Apr 2020

Refugee children in the camps on the Greek Aegean islands had enjoyed a safe learning space in the camp education centres. However, the Coronavirus outbreak, has caused  concerns.

During this health emergency, protecting the most vulnerable while providing basic essentials and learning services to refugee children are issues that demand an immediate response.

On the Greek islands, health teams are supplying hygiene kits and are trying to identify anyone with COVID-19 symptoms. However, social distancing measures are difficult to apply, especially as everyone in the camps has to queue for water and food.


Age-appropriate remote lessons and self-learning material are however being considered. It is also envisaged that digital tools will be put in place for those children that were accessing education centres in the camps before their closure. However, this endeavour is still in its early stages.

The Greek government is now starting to implement the first steps of an emergency action plan. In the meanwhile, a dozen unaccompanied minors were recently transferred from Greece to Luxembourg.

Germany has followed suit, welcoming more than  50 children. This is solidarity in action, preferably to be shared by other European countries as well. That would mean reaching and relocating  a good part of the estimated 5500 unaccompanied minors in mainland Greece and on the islands.

Relocation is based on assessing the children's best interests and access to health care constitutes one of those interests.

International organisations on the ground in the camps are reporting of unaccompanied young people turning to alcohol and drugs, and even more so during the current pandemic.

Stuck in the camps, without any meaningful activity, refugee families and children also face disputes between the different refugee groups as well as the threat of violence from some local residents against both refugees and those assisting them in trying to lead a dignified life.

Qasim a 14-year-old from the Moria camp on Lesbos expresses the view of many young refugees: "All I want is to be safe," adding after a pause: "And to go to school."

As the saying goes, "behind every statistic is an individual." Prompt European support for the most vulnerable child refugees would be a hallmark of the EU’s virtue and prudence.

Read the most recent articles written by Mariela Baeva - European Development Fund: Supporting education in crisis situations