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DOZENS of refugees have been reunited with their families in Britain after boarding a rescue flight from Greece this morning.
The 47 people on board, including 16 unaccompanied minors, had been stranded in squalid refugee camps on the Greek islands for many months.
They had been due to come to Britain in mid-March under an EU regulation that allows family reunifications if a close relative is already in the country, but their flight was cancelled due the coronavirus lockdown.
Since then, their families have been campaigning tirelessly to reschedule the flight with support from charity Safe Passage and Labour peer Alf Dubs.
Despite the suspension of family reunification across Europe, the Home Office decided to let the flight go ahead.
The rare move was facilitated by a repatriation flight being organised by the Greek and British governments to return Greek citizens who were stranded in the country by the lockdown.
Safe Passage said that the asylum-seekers on board were from Syria, Somalia and Afghanistan.
Many had experienced severe ill health while living in camps on the Aegean islands, where thousands of people are confined in intolerable conditions.
A relative of one asylum-seeker who was on today’s flight spoke of his relief: “It’s been five years since I’ve been able to properly see my brother, and all I’ve been able to think about is getting him to safety with me here,” the university student said.
“Now it’s finally happening, we’ll finally be together and able to relax. I know he’s looking forward to studying, playing sports and having a normal life.”
Lord Dubs, a lifelong advocate for refugee rights, said he hoped the flight was “just the start.”
“There are other children across Europe who want to join their family in Britain under the Dublin III Family Reunion [Regulation] and there are other children who are in the Greek camps who may not have family here but also need to be helped to find safety,” he said.
Safe Passage said it has vulnerable cases in France who are still waiting to come to Britain, adding that it is likely there are many others eligible for family reunification in other parts of Europe.
CEO Beth Gardiner-Smith said: “The British and Greek governments have shown real leadership in reuniting these families despite the travel difficulties, and we now urge the UK and other countries across Europe to continue these efforts to reunite the families still waiting and ensure no-one is left behind.”
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