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UK-Greece migration pact does too little for refugee children


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Greece and the UK have signed a new strategic action plan committing to further their cooperation on migration. It has gone largely unreported in mainstream media, but some Greek and English news outlets noted that the joint plan includes the relocation of unaccompanied minors and family reunification from Greece to the UK.

The Home Office however did not mention relocation or family reunification in its press release on the plan. Instead it highlighted that the plan’s purpose is to “deepen cooperation on irregular migration”, repeatedly mentioning “illegal migration” to Europe.

Of course, the journey to Europe by refugees should not be considered de facto illegal. Article 31 of the UN Refugee Convention exists to enshrine this principle in law. With no “asylum visa” available, refugees fleeing conflict and persecution have no choice but to make dangerous journeys, risking their lives in order to apply for protection. 

Unaccompanied children in Greece

The new joint plan between Greece and the UK does not satisfactorily address the plight of the 5,000 unaccompanied refugee children in Greece, who are all too often trapped in inhumane and unsafe conditions. 

Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis recently stated

For many months the Greek government has been raising the flag on the tragedy of unaccompanied children arriving in Greece… What we need is a clear demonstration of European solidarity, which should take the form of a voluntary relocation pact, by which unaccompanied minors who are currently in Greece are relocated to other European countries…

Other European countries have so far pledged a total of 1,600 places for children to be relocated from Greece. Last month, unaccompanied minors were relocated from Greece to Luxembourg and Germany. A further nine countries (Ireland, France, Switzerland, Belgium, Bulgaria, Finland, Portugal, Lithuania and Croatia) have also pledged to relocate unaccompanied children from Greece.

Existing legislation – section 67 of the Immigration Act 2016, also known as the “Dubs amendment” – commits the UK to safely relocate unaccompanied child refugees from Europe. This legislation should be used to bring unaccompanied minors from Greece immediately. 

Dublin double-speak

Recently, in response to claims that the UK is not relocating children from Greece, the Home Office incorrectly conflated the relocation of unaccompanied minors in Greece with existing legal obligations to reunite unaccompanied minors with family members in the UK under the Dublin III Regulation.

For those outside the immigration law community, transfers of children to the UK whose take charge requests have been accepted by the Home Office, might well sound like “relocation”. But relocation is something different to Dublin transfers – both we and the Home Office know it.

The Home Office should not ignore the plight of those unaccompanied children in Greece without family members or relatives in the UK. Any relocation effort must be in addition to the UK’s legal obligations under Dublin III. 

No mention is made of family reunification post-Brexit in the joint action plan. The UK government must take concrete steps to ensure that family members can continue to reunite with each other in the UK, when the Dublin III Regulations are no longer binding. 

This article was adapted from a statement made by Refugee Legal Support (RLS). Read the original statement, which includes further reading on the situation for unaccompanied children in Greece, here.

Interested in refugee law? You might like Colin's book, imaginatively called "Refugee Law" and published by Bristol University Press.

Communicating important legal concepts in an approachable way, this is an essential guide for students, lawyers and non-specialists alike.

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Lucy Alper

Lucy Alper is Project Coordinator of Refugee Legal Support (RLS) in Athens and an immigration caseworker when in the UK.