Switzerland is planning to take in “a certain number” of unaccompanied migrant children who have sought refuge in Greece, Switzerland’s justice minister announced on Friday. Rights groups have slammed Greek migrant camp conditions for minors.
Karin Keller-Sutter told the Keystone-SDA news agency that her ministry had given Greece assurances that Switzerland would take “a certain number of unaccompanied minors with family ties to Switzerland”. It is unclear how many children or when the first will arrive.
Her statement confirms an announcement by the Swiss state secretariat for Migration from early December.
Keller-Sutter urged the European Commission to "take the reins in its hands and draw up an action plan for Greece".
She made the remarks on Friday ahead of the start of a European Union ministerial meeting in Zagreb, Croatia.
Point of entry
Greece has been the first point of entry into the EU for hundreds of thousands of people fleeing war or poverty at home, with most arriving on eastern Aegean islands from nearby Turkey.
Under a 2016 EU-Turkey deal, new arrivals must stay on the islands pending deportation back to Turkey unless they successfully apply for asylum in Greece. Only those deemed vulnerable can be transferred to the mainland.
Long delays in the asylum process have led to thousands being stranded on the islands, with camps at between six and 12 times over their capacity. Rights groups have long criticized living conditions in the camps, where fights and violence are common.
Human Rights Watch reported in December that hundreds of unaccompanied children were living in “inhuman and degrading” conditions in a migrant camp on the Greek island of Lesbos, putting their mental and physical well-being at risk.
‘Miserable’ living conditions
In November, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi urged the Greek government to improve “miserable” living conditions in migrant camps and said Europe must do more to protect unaccompanied children.
Keller-Sutter described the humanitarian situation for asylum seekers in Greece as “precarious”. At the same time, she insisted that the EU state was an important Schengen external border and that it was important to ensure “a complete record” of the people entering Greece and that repatriations remained possible.
On the sidelines of the Croatia ministerial meeting, Keller-Sutter plans to hold talks on EU asylum policy with her new Austrian counterpart, Karl Nehammer, German Interior Minister Horst Seehofer and Dutch Migration Minister Ankie Broekers-Knol.