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Swiss take in young refugees from Greek island camps

A group of underage refugees stranded in Greece have arrived in Switzerland following calls by a broad alliance from civil society to prevent a humanitarian disaster.

Twenty-three unaccompanied minors, who have family living in Switzerland, landed at Zurich airport on Saturday according the State Secretariat for Migration (SEM).

The group is made up of 18 boys and five girls aged between ten and 17. They originate from Afghanistan and the Democratic Republic of Congo, a SEM statement said.

They will be quarantined for two weeks to avoid the risk of spreading coronavirus before they are transferred to an asylum centre and handed over to the cantonal authorities.

The flight is part of Switzerland’s support for the Greek authorities, the SEM said.

The Swiss government has also pledged CHF1.1 million ($1.2 billion) in emergency aid for projects benefiting children and teenagers in refugee camps on Greek Aegean island, the SEM added.

Calls for extension 

The Swiss branch of the United Nations refugee agency, UNHCR as well as the Swiss refugee council, have welcomed the government’s initiative and called for an extension of the programme.

There are an estimated 5,000 unaccompanied minors currently living in refugee camps in Greece, according to the UNHCR. European Union countries have pledged to take in about 1,600 unaccompanied minors.

In April, more than 100 organisations, including church groups, launched an appeal to take in refugees, saying Switzerland shared “a responsibility for the humanitarian catastrophe on the Greek islands.”

A petition signed by more than 30,000 people called on the government and parliament to act to help improve the dire situation in the refugee camps on the Greek islands.