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Finland open to taking in child refugees from Greece

Finland may accept some of the 5,000 unaccompanied minors currently in Greece.

Nuori afgaanipoika telttansa edustalla Morian pakolaisleirissä Lesboksella.
A young Afghan boy outside his tent in Moria refugee camp on the Greek island of Lesbos. Image: Dimitris Tosidis / EPA

Finland's Interior Minister Maria Ohisalo has told Yle that she wants to see Finland take in some of the child asylum seekers currently living in refugee camps in Greece.

"The Ministry of the Interior was asked to review the matter. We've done that and so we have the preparedness to take children out of this difficult situation and try to help them," said Ohisalo.

Around 5,000 minors who arrived without their parents are currently living Greece. Last October the Greek government appealed to EU member states to accept at least 1,000 of the children. France has pledged to accept 400, and several German states have expressed their willingness to take in some of these children.

According to Ohisalo, the children in Greece should be given help as soon as possible. She told Yle that she hopes that the Finnish government will make a speedy decision to help.

Shocking conditions

Conditions in refugee camps in Greece have shocked even the most experienced aid workers. Some camps have packed in as many as six times the number of refugees as they were designed to house.

The camps have a shortage of drinking water and food, much of the housing consists of makeshift tents of plastic sheeting, hygiene is poor and healthcare is minimal. Children in the camps have no access to schooling, and many are reported to be suffering from illnesses stemming from camp conditions, as well as serious mental health problems.

Story continues after photo.

Lapset telttansa ulkopuolella Morian pakolaisleirillä Lesboksella
Children in the Moria refugee camp. Image: Orestis Panagiotou / EPA

A psychologist working in the Moria camp told Yle in January that many of the children there arrived already suffering from psychological trauma that has only been worsened by the conditions they are living under in the camp.

No decision yet

Greece has been criticised for the treatment of underage refugees. The Greek ambassador to Finland, Georgios Ayfantis, told Yle on Tuesday that officials there are doing their best, but that their ability to help diminishes day by day. There are too many people in the camps already, and more are constantly arriving.

He said that this is a group of extremely vulnerable and fragile children and teens who need special attention and care. Social welfare authorities in Greece are doing what they can to help, but are overwhelmed.

"Greek officials are expected to perform a herculean task. But that's mythology. We cannot do the impossible," said Ayfantis.

Story continues after photo.

Maria Ohisalo
Interior Minister Maria Ohisalo. Image: Heikki Saukkomaa / Lehtikuva

The government in Helsinki is only just now discussing the issue of accepting minors from the Greek refugee camps, and no timetable or numbers have yet been set.

"At this point, I wouldn't talk about numbers. I think that as an affluent state Finland has the opportunity and the duty to help these children. It would be unjustifiable for that number to be zero," said Interior Minister Ohisalo.

EDIT 13.2.2020 This story and headline originally suggested that 'around 5,000 minors who arrived without their parents are currently living in the Moria refugee camp on the Greek island of Lesbos'. The figure of 5,000 actually refers to the total number in Greece, not just in the camp on Lesbos.

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