Monday 19 August 2019

Six migrant families' relocation 'a start' - Tsipras

Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras
Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras

Elena Becatoros

Thirty refugees left Greece for Luxembourg yesterday, the first from Greece under a new EU relocation plan but only a minuscule fraction of the hundreds of thousands of asylum-seekers who have entered the country this year.

The six families from Syria and Iraq marked the start of a programme to relocate refugees who have arrived in Greece from nearby Turkey to other EU countries without them having to make the arduous, often dangerous overland journey across the Balkans on foot.

More than 600,000 refugees and migrants have arrived in Greece so far this year, most in the past few months. Hundreds have drowned as their overloaded and unseaworthy boats overturned or sank - over 90 in the last week alone. Five people - three children and two men - died on Tuesday night following an accident involving a boat carrying 70 people. The coast guard said yesterday that 65 people had been rescued.

Greek government and European officials present at Athens airport for the departure ceremony stressed yesterday's flight was just a symbolic start to a programme that will expand.

"Of course, we have full realisation that this is just a start, that 30 people compared to thousands who have fled is just a drop in the ocean," said Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras. "But we aim to make this drop a stream."

Speaking in Brussels, where the plane arrived, Angela Corniachtou of the International Organization for Migration said the refugees "were all very happy." "They are going to a very nice country where they are going to have good education for their children, their families," she said.

On the bus to Luxembourg, the smiling families waved to reporters, with one man saying "Luxembourg, very good!"

The relocation programme aims to transfer 160,000 refugees from EU countries on the front line of the migration crisis to other member states.

Irish Independent

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