Germany, Luxembourg to take in young refugees, Greece says

FILE PHOTO: Migrants stand outside a temporary shelter in a makeshift camp for refugees and migrants next to the Moria camp, during a nationwide lockdown to contain the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), on the island of Lesbos, Greece April 02, 2020. REUTERS/Elias Marcou/File Photo

ATHENS (Reuters) - Greece will transfer about 60 unaccompanied children from overcrowded migrant camps to Luxembourg and Germany next week as worries mount about the coronavirus pandemic.

At least 5,200 unaccompanied minors live in Greece, many of them under harsh conditions in camps on islands in the Aegean. About a dozen European nations have expressed a willingness to take in a number of them.

Germany said on Wednesday that it will accept 50 children and youths after the first coronavirus cases were confirmed among migrants last week in Greece.

The first 12 children will travel to Luxembourg next Wednesday and 50 more at the end of next week to Germany after medical tests, Greek deputy Migration Minister Giorgos Koumoutsakos told reporters.

“It is possible coronavirus was one of the reasons governments decided to move fast on this matter,” Koumoutsakos said.

Greece has confirmed 28 cases of COVID-19 in two migrant camps on its mainland but none on island camps, where aid groups say living conditions are appalling.

Koumoutsakos said authorities were preparing special quarantine areas inside and outside camps, should the need arise.

Tens of thousands of migrants tried to get into European Union member Greece after Turkey said in February it would no longer prevent them from doing so, as agreed in a 2016 deal with the EU in return for aid for Syrian refugees.

More than 40,000 asylum seekers are now stuck in camps on islands close to Turkey. About a dozen European countries have expressed a willingness to take in 1,600 unaccompanied children, including Italy, Finland, Serbia, Ireland and Portugal.

Reporting by Lefteris Papadimas; Editing by Angus MacSwan