European border restrictions imposed because of the coronavirus will affect plans to transfer hundreds of children out of “dire and dangerous” refugee camps in Greece, a senior official for the United Nations children’s fund (UNICEF) said on Tuesday.
European countries including Finland, France, Portugal and Luxembourg, and the German city of Berlin, agreed in recent weeks to take unaccompanied minors from Greece after thousands of refugees and migrants arrived in the EU member state, including those fleeing violence in Syria.
But some EU member states have now imposed checks at borders that are normally in a zone of control-free travel, and EU leaders were expected later on Tuesday to seal the bloc’s external borders.
“The temporary shutdown of cross-border movement within the EU will inevitably impact when and how vulnerable children in Greece are relocated to Germany, Finland, and other states,” Afshan Khan, Special Coordinator for the Refugee and Migrant response in Europe, said by email in response to a question from Reuters.
She urged countries to explore “all possible measures to expedite the transfer of these children, so they can begin moving as soon as the borders reopen”.
She also called for coronavirus testing procedures to be set up for the children and alternatives found to collective living arrangements.
The UN refugee agency (UNHCR) said on Tuesday there were at least 10 confirmed coronavirus cases among refugees and asylum seekers in Germany. Some aid officials worry this might undermine future support for taking refugees.
UNHCR spokesman Andrej Mahecic urged all national authorities to treat refugees and asylum seekers who fall sick with the virus the same way as other nationals.