Six families from Iraq and Syria are the first asylum-seekers to be relocated from Greece as part of an EU-funded resettlement scheme.
A 780 million euro, EU-approved plan is due to move 160,000 refugees from over-burdened coastal nations like Greece and Italy, to other EU countries. 86 refugees have been transferred from Italy to Sweden and Finland under the scheme so far, but this morning marked the first time refugees have been moved from Greece. Thirty boarded a Luxembourg-bound plane at Athens International Airport.
Greece, already reeling from the Eurozone debt crisis, has had to cope with an influx of refugees and migrants over the last twelve months. At least 580,000 refugees have crossed the sea from Turkey into Greek territory over the past year, and the International Organisation for Migration estimates that more than 435 people died in the waters between Greece and Turkey between 1 January and 6 October this year.
To smiles and waves from Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and Luxembourg’s Foreign Minister Jean Asselborn, six families from Syria and Iraq boarded a flight to Luxembourg this morning. Greek public TV broadcast the departure of the 30 asylum-seekers live.
Mr Tsipras posed for selfies with the asylum-seekers and embraced a young child on the tarmac at the airport. Speaking afterwards, he said the group represented a “drop in the ocean” and called for more European countries to agree to a resettlement programme.
“We hope that this becomes a stream, and then a river of humanity and shared responsibility, because these are the principles upon which the European Union was built,” he said.
The President of the European Parliament, Martin Schulz, said that the impact of an influx of refugees on Greece has been “exceptional and dramatic” and added his voice to Tsipras’s call for other EU nations to agree to take more of Greece’s influx of refugees and migrants.
“If we have to distribute, let’s say, a million of refugees amongst 507 million citizens it is no problem. But if we reduce the number of countries participating to a few ones then it becomes for the countries a problem.”
EU heads of state will meet next on 12 November to discuss the continent’s response to the refugee crisis.