More than 2,200 asylum seekers and refugees have now been relocated from reception centres on Greek islands and elsewhere in Greece to other European countries.


Somali refugee, Nasro, 18, waits in a hotel room in Athens with her mother and brother before their relocation flight to Germany. © UNHCR/Achilleas Zavallis

 20 January 2021 (UNHCR)*Nasro Mohamed was desperate for a fresh beginning when she and her family were flown from Greece to start lives in Germany under a programme organized by the European Union.

The 18-year-old from Somalia landed in Germany on 10 December on a humanitarian flight along with her mother, Hindi Adan, 41, and her brother who suffers a severe form of epilepsy.

“My brother … cannot walk. He cannot speak. He needs constant medical care. I want to study and become a doctor. Maybe I can help him,” said Nasro. For now, though, her ambitions are more concrete.

“All I want is a doctor for my brother and a school for me,” she said.

The voluntary relocation scheme under which the family came to Germany first focused on unaccompanied children, but was later broadened to other vulnerable asylum seekers and refugees, including children with medical conditions and families such as Nasro’s.

The programme is organised by the Greek Special Secretary for Unaccompanied Minors and the Greek Asylum Service in partnership with UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and UNICEF. These organizations work with the European Commission as donor and the European Asylum Support Office as project partner.

For unaccompanied children, the relocation programme is led by the Greek Special Secretary for Unaccompanied Minors, supported by UNICEF, in addition to UNHCR and IOM.

A total of 2,235 people have been transferred between April 2020 and January 2021, according to IOM. Of these, 577 are unaccompanied children. The others include children with medical conditions with family members, vulnerable asylum seekers and recognized refugees.

Sixteen states are part of the relocation and admission initiative. They are Belgium, Bulgaria, France, Croatia, Finland, Germany, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Luxembourg, Lithuania, Slovenia and Switzerland.

The Greek government is working to reduce overcrowding in its Aegean island camps, but more than 14,700 refugees and asylum seekers remain in precarious living conditions.

UNHCR calls for appropriate shelter needs to be secured, increased reception capacity and accelerated transfers to the Greek mainland, alongside effective refugee integration programmes, continued European Commission support and relocation to other European states.

The 10-hour journey from Athens to the city of Speyer, in southwestern Germany, brings to an end a turbulent period for the Mohamed family that began when militants killed Nasro’s father in Mogadishu, the capital of Somalia, three years ago.

The militants threatened Hindi’s life too. Unable to look after her children and fearing for her life, she decided in 2018 to flee her home country and headed to Greece.

They spent 10 months in difficult conditions at a reception centre on the island of Leros before the news came of relocation to Germany and a chance for a more stable life.

For the first two weeks, the family quarantined at a refugee centre in Speyer due to the COVID-19 pandemic. They had their own well-equipped room, which seemed like a luxury after many months of basic conditions in Greece.

Nasro, who speaks English, said she was yet to start German classes due to the quarantine, but she and her mother had begun watching German television to familiarize themselves with the language.

She paid tribute to the kindness of the people who they had encountered in Germany and said her brother had been treated in hospital in Germany.

“My brother sees me happy, so he is smiling,” she said.

(Reporting by Apostolos Staikos in Athens)