Greece on Nov 4 carried out the first relocation of asylum seekers from its territory to Luxembourg, part of an EU-approved plan to ease the burden on border nations inundated by this year’s influx of hundreds of thousands of refugees.
Six families from Syria and Iraq were being relocated from Athens, among the first under a 780-million-euro, two-year scheme funded by the European Union.
Smiling parents holding young children posed for “selfies” with Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and Luxembourg Foreign Minister Jean Asselborn beside an aeroplane on the runway of Athens international airport, before boarding their flight, live footage broadcast by state television showed.
“Thirty in the face of thousands who have fled their homes in Syria and Iraq is a drop in the ocean,” Tsipras said.
“But we hope that this becomes a stream, and then a river of humanity and shared responsibility, because these are the principles upon which the European Union was built.”
More than 580,000 refugees have entered Greece through its long sea border with Turkey this year. In September, the EU approved the transfer of about 160,000 asylum seekers from member states directly affected by the crisis.
About 86 people have already been transferred directly from Italy to Sweden and Finland under the scheme.
The death toll from drowning among refugees making the short but dangerous crossing from Turkey to Greece’s outlying eastern islands has risen in recent weeks.
From the beginning of the year until Oct. 29, at least 435 people died, including many children.
Such danger could be avoided if refugees were registered and entered legal relocation schemes from Turkey itself, Tsipras said.
The crisis has created a tough logistical, financial and humanitarian challenge for cash-strapped E.U. member Greece, which signed up to its third international bailout this year, though Greeks themselves are by and large sympathetic to the migrants’ plight.
But it has triggered bickering among other EU partners on how to handle one of the biggest humanitarian crises in decades. EU member state Hungary has erected fences to keep migrants out.
Tsipras was speaking behind a large frame of a photograph of three elderly Greek women bottle feeding an infant and singing it a lullaby while its refugee mother looks on. It was taken on Lesbos, an island which has received the bulk of refugees.