The broken promises that have left forgotten child refugees out in the cold

It was one of those insoluble crises that made us all wish it would just go away. And it seemed to. But that is only because we stopped paying attention. Not only did the Greek refugee crisis not go away, it has continued to get worse while we were focused elsewhere.

To recap, the deal done between the EU and Turkey in 2016 was supposed to stem the flow of small boats across the Aegean and allow Greece to send economic migrants back to Turkey, in return for an easier visa regime for Turks and more moves towards EU membership. Very little of that has actually happened.

Refugees continue to come, albeit in smaller numbers, but still in the hundreds most weeks. Greek policy has been to keep them on the islands, rather than move them to the mainland, but predictably that has simply filled the camps on Lesbos, Samos, Chios and other islands to overflowing.

Moria camp on Lesbos was built to hold 1,800 and now houses close to 7,000. We weren’t allowed to film inside, but those who have seen it say that conditions are so bad that little wonder more than a thousand more choose to live on rough ground outside the fences, with only tents for shelter.

A combined population of more than 8,000 live in or outside the camp, with many in makeshift tents. Credit: ITV News

Last winter two people are known to have died from hypothermia, though the real figure may have been higher. Nothing has improved this winter. Hundreds of children, in particular, are desperately vulnerable.

Under mounting international pressure, there is an effort now by the Greek authorities to get more people moved to the mainland to ease pressure on the camps but, welcome as this is, it simply shifts the problem. The real bottleneck is in the refusal of the rest of Europe to share the burden of re-housing the refugees.

Moria camp has been condemned for treating its vastly overcrowded population as prisoners. Credit: ITV News

EU policy is for 160,000 to be resettled around the continent. So far only 30,000 or so have been moved and the programme has virtually ground to a halt. Even the reunification of families separated during their flight to safety is not happening.

Part of Britain’s contribution was supposed to have been the ‘Dubs Programme’, which was inspired by Labour peer Alf Dubs and intended as a way to bring 3,000 unaccompanied minors to the UK. Those who put great hopes in this programme were soon to be disappointed.

The children are among thousands housed on the Aegean islands. Credit: ITV News

British officials scaled it back to just 480 children and imposed such strict conditions that even fulfilling that reduced number may prove to be a challenge.

Greece alone is currently taking care of 3,500 unaccompanied children, but until last week not a single one had been resettled in the UK. It seems that Britain will end up taking, at most, 30 children from Greece.

Life jackets hang on fencing as a reminder of the refugees' desperate escape. Credit: ITV News

While the attention of the media and - to some extent - the aid agencies has been elsewhere, politicians and immigration officials have been busy doing as little as possible to put promises made at the height of the crisis into effect.

Sometimes problems do just go away if you ignore them for long enough. This is not one of them.